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Everyday Theology

By Louise McEwan


The good, bad and ugly of the Olympics

I was tired of Rio 2016 even before the opening ceremonies.

There was way too much coverage of everything that was wrong and little of what was right. The only good news story that I can recall prior to the opening ceremonies was the creation of Team Refugee, and once the Olympics began, Team Refugee virtually disappeared from view. The “trending stories” about Rio 2016 focused on controversy, scandal, or bad news.

John Steinbeck hit the nail on the head when he said, “We value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp and the cheat.” This fits the media coverage and our taste when it came to Olympic news.

Here are a few examples of bad news associated with the Rio 2016 Games.

Brazil spent vast amounts of money to host the games when a majority of its citizens live in poverty. Bribery played a huge role in the awarding of contracts to construct Olympic venues. Politicians and public servants lined their pockets. The rich got richer.

The polluted waters of Guanabara Bay raised concerns. There were fears that athletes and visitors would contract water-borne diseases from the raw human sewage spilling into the waters. There was less concern about the citizens who live with this reality daily.

Days before the games were set to begin, the Australians refused to stay in sub-standard, unfinished dormitories. Accepting bribes apparently did not ensure that a good product would be delivered on time.

The state-sponsored Russian doping scandal broke. The International Olympic Committee made a controversial decision regarding the participation of Russian athletes and passed the buck to the various sports federations. Russian officials denied and scorned the McLaren report. Fans booed some of the Russian athletes who did get to compete.

Part-way through the two-week games, Brazilian police arrested Patrick Hickey of the International Olympic Committee on allegations of illegal ticket selling.

American swimmer Ryan Lochte, who has won 12 Olympic medals, embellished an incident, saying he was robbed at gunpoint to the head. The fallout from his dissembling lasted for days. Lochte may have apologized, but the affair demonstrated the arrogance of privilege.

The Brazilian women’s synchronized dive team made headlines for a so-called “sex scandal.” The night before their competition, one of the divers banished her teammate from their room to clear the way for a tryst.

It is all so human. In every instance we see the imperfection of our common human nature. But, for some reason, we expect better from those involved with running, hosting and competing in the Olympics Games. We naively expect that the athletic excellence on display at an Olympics will automatically translate into virtuous and exemplary behaviour from everyone involved. We are disappointed and disillusioned when the flaws of humanity overshadow the lofty ideals of the Olympic movement.

I had to look hard to find good news stories that were not focused solely on athletic performance. One story in particular caught my eye because it showed the more admirable side of human nature. New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin and American runner Abby D’Agostino exemplified the Olympic spirit of selflessness and sportsmanship during a 5,000-metre race. Hamblin fell, causing D’Agostino to fall and sustain an injury. The women helped each other up. Both completed the race. They received the International Fair Play Award, a prestigious honour that has only been awarded 17 times in Olympic history.

One of the goals of the Olympic movement is to put sport at the service of society. Sometimes, the goal gets twisted. Instead of sport at the service of society, we see examples of sport at the service of self.

We should not be surprised that the best and worst of human behaviour made an appearance at the Rio 2016 Games. At the end of day, the Olympic Games are a microcosm of human nature with its mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Trail, B.C., resident Louise McEwan is a freelance writer, religion columnist and catechist. She has degrees in English and theology and is a former teacher. She blogs at Reach her at