Shoot The Real Beast

A curious item came to us this past week: a jaguar that was being used in an Olympics-related event in Brazil was shot and killed after it escaped its enclosure and was perceived to be a threat to human life.

Embed from Getty Images

Juma the Brazilian jaguar: not a fan of these Olympics

As always happens with these sorts of incidents, there was immediate outrage over the animal’s death. Almost certainly justified outrage, I should note; again, as always, these incidents are the products of animals just doing what they do, being what they are. It was the stupidity and arrogance of the handlers that created a fatal situation.

However, the outrage may have been misplaced in this instance, in the sense that there’s a far more dangerous and predatory beast currently stalking Brazil–and any number of other locations around the world–and a little preventative action on that monster is probably much more appropriate than shooting a big cat.

In other words, it’s time to shoot the real beast: the Olympics itself.

The DFR: Sports BusinessThe death of Juma the jaguar is the latest sign that things just aren’t going all that well with the Rio games–and we’re still more than a month away from any of the athletes arriving in Brazil.

No, wait, I’m wrong. The latest sign that the Rio de Janeiro Olympics are tanking is the fact that the lab that was supposed to test the athletes has been given the boot by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Things are falling apart so fast that it’s difficult to keep up with all the bad news.

Does all this bad news–I haven’t even mentioned the impact of the Zika epidemic on athlete participation in the Games–mean that the event is bound to be a disaster? Not necessarily. “Disaster,” much like “success,” is a term that comes with a certain amount of elasticity; at this point Brazilians could hold the Games and insist, as long as there wasn’t a nuclear explosion in Guanabara Bay during the sixteen days, that it was a roaring success.

“The Olympics have outlived their usefulness. Let’s free ourselves from their tyranny, and thereby free “future Brazils” from the negative impacts of winning the Pyrrhic victory that is being named their hosts.”

But a more realistic assessment would probably conclude that Rio is in for what may turn out to be the most disastrous Olympics to date.

Start with the problems detailed in the links above. All things considered, a dead jaguar is very bad publicity, but ultimately not nearly as damaging as everything else that’s going wrong there.

The potential to spawn a global Zika pandemic has to sit right at the top of the list of potential problems. And that’s not even the only health-related problem the event faces: the potential for major medical concerns caused by the effluent-filled waters of the bay was the chief worry of potential participants before the mosquitoes got to work in earnest in the last year or so.

Yes, in the last year “or so.” Concerns about Rio’s Games are not new. Almost from the moment Brazil won the bid, there have been questions about Rio’s ability to host the event. Facilities construction has been behind schedule the whole time, and the political corruption crisis appears, at least to outsiders, to go hand in hand with the Olympics’ issues. The collapse of a bike path that was built as part of the Games’ infrastructure projects has to leave people wondering if other facilities will fail when put to the test as the Games go on–especially people who will be walking, sitting, and cheering in those facilities.

Of course, no one could have predicted that the Olympics would be a whole bundle of trouble. Oh, wait–who are we kidding? Anyone could have predicted problems, if for no other reason than the fact that the Olympics are always a financial boondoggle. Expecting a country like Brazil to host the Games, and thus adding those financial burdens onto a nation that was only beginning to build itself up into a modern, “first world” state was just asking for trouble.

The routine fiascos that accompany the Olympics are so routine that the comedian Harry Shearer, on his Le Show radio program/podcast, includes a regular featured titled “News of the Olympic Movement” in which he shares with listeners news of the Olympics’ latest disaster-du-jour. (The segment’s wonderfully appropriate tag line: “It’s a movement…and everyone needs one, every day.” Right into Guanabara Bay, apparently.)

At this point, the only thing left to expect during the upcoming Games in Rio, something that has not yet threatened, is some sort of Munich-style nightmare. That’s not out of the question given that Rio’s state has run out of money thanks to the country’s economic problems, and security is one of the expenses that has been cut back.

Given all of these problems, given the corruption and arrogance that has been displayed by the IOC over the years–they’re running neck and neck with FIFA in leading that race–given that the Games are a financial burden even for the wealthiest countries when they host them, it’s time to recognize the obvious: the real dangerous animal threatening  everyone is the Olympic movement itself. And it’s that beast that needs to be killed.

Whatever concept of fostering international brotherhood and unity may have been in play in the early days of the modern Olympics has long since dissipated, if it ever was there in the first place. In addition to becoming a financial grift that impoverishes whichever nation hosts the event, the Games have long been a venue for proxy war and symbolic conflict, something that has probably escalated tensions rather than easing them. (The recent decision to ban the Russian track and field team from the Rio Games is part of a general rise in tensions between Russia and the West.)

Yes, people still like watching the Games, but killing the Olympics doesn’t mean those sports will go away entirely. All of the individual sports can still have their world championships, and fans can get their fixes tuning in for those events. That may drive more obscure sports into further obscurity, but that is almost certainly a product of those events’ inherent popularity rather than a lack of visibility.

Indeed, the Olympics may hurt certain sports more than they help when it comes to popularity. Track and field sports used to be much more popular in the United States than they are now; today, most Americans only pay attention to such sports during the Olympics, and at no other time. The heightened importance of the Olympics for those competitions has rendered every other meet irrelevant to the casual viewer. (It’s also worth noting that some sports–particularly so-called “extreme” sports–rose to popularity without being in the Olympics, particularly the winter sports of snowboarding and freestyle skiing. They joined in Olympic competition after they became popular–not the other way around.)

Simply put: the Olympics have outlived their usefulness. Let’s free ourselves from their tyranny, and thereby free “future Brazils” from the negative impacts of winning the Pyrrhic victory that is being named their hosts. And maybe we can even save an innocent cat or two along the way.


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