Opinion: False start | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 05.08.2016
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Sports

Opinion: False start

The Olympics are meant to be an international festival to show off all that Brazil has to offer. But as DW's Joscha Weber writes, the prospects of this happing are questionable, because things went wrong from the start.

Thomas Bach squints in an effort to focus his eyes. He is looking rather serious. The question seems challenging to him. I have just asked him whether he can look all of the athletes in the eye who are disappointed by his decision to open a back door, which is allowing almost the entire Russian team to compete at the Olympics. Shortly before this, the president of the IOC told the press conference that he had dealt with this "sensitive issue" in keeping with the principle that "I must be able to look the athletes in the eye." Bach draws a breath and says, "I can continue to look the athlete in the eye, because I have a clear conscience," adding that he could also count on the "broad support of the associations." He fails to mention that there is also broad opposition to his course of action, both in the sporting world and society at large. Clearly, he sees this as the end of the Russia debate. This is a miscalculation.

Anti-doping efforts for show

This is because the fact that 271 Russian athletes will participate in the Games is a slap in the face to all clean athletes - and they won't forget this. First media reports, then insider statements, and later a comprehensive report from the World Anti-Doping Agency pointed to systematic doping in Russian sports. And these are not merely "individual cases" as the IOC likes to state; instead, they amount to an avalanche of fraud. However, all of this is not enough to warrant a blanket ban, according to Thomas Bach. The head of international sports is of the opinion that "a system of justice was applied." This is a daring thesis, because the IOC decision to de facto allow the majority of Russian athletes to compete in Rio amounts to nothing more than a show.

What would be just, would be to punish systematic breaches of the rules. It would be just for clean athletes to be protected from the cheaters. It would also be just for sports to leave such landmark decisions to independent bodies such as the World Anti-Doping Agency. None of this has happened. Even before the Games officially started, the entire Olympic movement found itself in a deep credibility crisis. This is a false start of historic proportions.

And this is not the only problem with the Rio Games. There is no perceivable enthusiasm here. Rio is as hectic and cordial a metropolis as it ever was, but it simply is not the sports-mad city that London was in 2012. Ask people here whether bidding for the Olympics was a good idea and you will get a rather skeptical response. According to an opinion poll conducted for the Brazilian newspaper Estadao, 60 per cent of Brazilians believe that the 10.5 billion euros that their country is spending on the Olympics are poorly spent - and this in a country of sports enthusiasts. Such figures should set off alarm bells at the IOC.

Brasilien Proteste gegen Rousseff

Protests and political instability have marred the build up to the Olympics

Protests directed against Olympics

But Bach ignores this. He concedes that the country finds itself in a crisis, but claims that this has nothing to do with the Olympics. This is a mistake, because the protests on the streets of Rio in recent days were also directed against the Games. They are a beacon. Students and professors, protesting against the poor educational system, blocked the path of the Olympic torch on its way to Maracana Stadium, as did both the dispossessed and trade unionists. The protest of the angry and disappointed against the country's corrupt political elite intertwined with the protest "against Olympic disasters of all kinds," as one of the slogans on the Copacabana ran. Brazil really is in crisis, and the Olympic Games must avoid being drawn into it.

However, there is still hope. Unlike in the 100-meter dash, when the first false start now results in disqualification, the organizers will be afforded a second chance, despite the failings in sports governance. The hope is that when the competitions get going, they will inspire the masses. This hope is not unfounded, as this has been the case many times in the past. But the organizers of the Games should not count on this and should think about possible reforms to the Games that would go beyond Bach's Agenda 2020. Should they be too slow out of the starting blocks, they could quickly find themselves overtaken by the problems.

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