Is Rio really that bad?

Edna in Rio - photo credit Rich Lam

No.

NO.

Stop it.

I’ve been receiving daily messages asking about Rio: is it safe, is it clean, is it ready?

This happens every Olympic year — and as someone entrenched in the thick of it, reading all the clickbait negativity makes me want to chuck a brick at your computer.

No, not my computer, your computer, so that you’ll all stop reading these sensationalized articles that paint every Olympic host city to be an incompetent hellhole for the sake of, I don’t know, schadenfreude and clicks.

Rio questions from followers

Literally every. single. day. 

I almost wrote this post in Sochi, which went through the same overhyped frenzy, but didn’t have the time then. Now it’s happening again, and I’m frustrated again, so here are my two cents from base camp.

I’d rather not write this for Pyeongchang and Tokyo and Beijing (though of course I probably will, because the media machine is just too predictable), so listen up.

Leblon beach at night by Expat Edna

Hanging out at Leblon Beach alone after dark. Made it out alive.

Do you feel safe?? I heard Rio is really dangerous!

I don’t feel any less safe here than I do in big cities like New York or Barcelona. Of course I take precautions: I don’t wear my accreditation outside of Olympic areas, don’t keep anything in my jeans to tempt pickpockets, don’t wander alone at night.

But I’ve been out exploring all around Rio while juggling two phones (work and personal) and a DSLR and so far as I can tell, everything I own is still safely in my possession.

Also, there is security EVERYWHERE. I see multiple helicopters flying over Olympic Park and downtown Rio every day, and am never more than a few yards from someone from Força Nacional armed with a gun.

BV3 Rio by Expat Edna

Home sweet home.

But what about the stories I’m hearing about accommodation??

Obviously I can’t speak for the Athletes Village, but the Media Village has been totally habitable. I’ve been here 2.5 weeks and have had no major issues; in fact, coming from Europe, my apartment here is quite spacious, the shower is excellent, and I love having a living room again!

Also, let me direct you to this article about how the Kiwis reacted to their housing situation. And this one (which is just an excellent read in general), where the president of Georgia’s judo federation said, “Let’s not talk about this … We’re here to win medals, not for comfort.”

No it’s not the Ritz, but let’s check some expectations: this is a city where I’ve yet to find a bathroom where I am allowed to flush toilet paper. If a financially struggling friend invited you to stay at their place, would you be mad to show up and find they weren’t offering a penthouse and 328960-thread count sheets?

This is definitely a pet peeve I picked up after years of living and traveling through Asia: let’s not judge other countries by Western standards of comfort.

What about that athlete that was robbed?!

He’s not here for the Games; his sport isn’t in the Olympics. He’d been living in Rio for ten months and was unfortunately robbed while he was living here. The media picked up on the fact that he happens to be an athlete, and ran with it. Question: if he’d been a lawyer or a bus driver, do you think the headlines would have been as big?

Olimpica Rio by Expat Edna

But things aren’t ready! Why can’t we just push back the Olympics a year?

I can’t believe this is even a legitimate question, and yet it keeps popping up.

The general public has no idea how much work goes into producing an Olympics. Even now — on my fourth one — I’m still learning and in awe of just *how many* details need to be looked after.

The accreditation guys get here two years in advance. For accreditation! The big photo agencies start coming three (or is it four?) years in advance to start marking their photo positions.

It’s not a simple drag and drop, let’s do this next year, same time same place. The Olympics are seven years in the making for a reason. One does not simply move Everest.

What a mess, I can’t believe they awarded it to Rio in the first place.

Do you remember what the world was like in 2009? Do you remember what you were like in 2009? A lot can change in seven years. Back then, from the accounts I’ve read, Brazil seemed in a good position to host and had a solid bid.

No one could have predicted Zika, the presidential scandal, or the actions of the global currency market (i.e. the recession and subsequent budget cuts). And if you did, then I have some lottery numbers I want to discuss with you.

Mosquito ready by Expat Edna

BUT ZIKAAAAA@!#?!

I saw exactly one mosquito in my first two weeks here. I didn’t get my first bite until day 15. Keep in mind it’s winter, so it’s actually been mildly chilly. And when it is sunny and hot out, there is no shortage of mosquito repellent. Media received Off! in their press bags; workforce gives away boxes full of the stuff to staff and volunteers (see photo above) every day.

I believe the mosquito apocalypse has been greatly exaggerated.

I’m seeing something positive about Rio. It must be fake.

I’ve seen this comment a few times, most recently on this video by the good folks at Team Canada (side note, those guys run great social. And I’m not just saying that because I know them.)

Why is everyone obsessed with this going wrong? I get the feeling that some people actually want a horrific tragedy to happen, just so they can self-righteously sigh, I knew this would happen, and then bask in their foresight.

Why do you want the world to burn? It’s doing enough of that at the moment already. Stop insulting everyone involved and give the city and its people some credit.

Copacabana by Expat Edna

FINAL THOUGHTS

Olympic rower Megan Kalmoe wrote a blog post that is everything I feel about this subject. I was going to quote my favorite paragraphs, but then I realized I’d pretty much be copy/pasting the whole thing.

She brings up SO MANY good points, I can only implore you to read it: Stop Trying to Ruin The Olympics For Us

I have one final thought in addition to her excellent points, and the ones I’ve addressed above.

Thousands of people have devoted years, and blood and sweat and tears, for this. The athletes who train. The journalists and photogs who bust their asses to build their career to get sent to the Games. The press ops teams (and all the hundreds of other teams) who work so many hours for not-so-much pay because this is our passion.

Because we believe in the Olympics and what they stand for.

We believe in the hope they bring and stories they inspire; we want to bring that hope and inspiration to you. You want to whine and moan, but imagine our world without the Olympics to look forward to every two years? I argue that for all its faults, we are still better off on the whole with them around.

No, Rio isn’t perfect and there is still work to be done. But no city is perfect; no Olympics is either.

Sunday night I watched the Opening Ceremony dress rehearsal, and for the past week I’ve been watching the diving / synchro / water polo athletes training at our venue. It is so humbling and moving to be surrounded by so much dedication and passion and excellence

Once the curtain rises at Maracana on Friday night, everyone will go, Oh right! This is the best celebration of humanity, its possibilities and its achievements, on the planet. It’s a two-week party in a city that definitely knows how to party.

Everything is going to be fine, guys. Stop buying into the media hype; stop painting an entire city or country off a few negative news stories, and let yourself enjoy it.

I, for one, am looking forward to the most incredibly intense, sleepless, rewarding, emotional, and inspiring 16 days ahead.

Rio 2016, here we go.

Lead photo of me by Rich Lam. Of course, this post is totally my personal opinion and does not reflect the position of any other person or organization.

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Comments

  1. Good entry. I always hate how media can so easily make something into an extremely bad situation, when it’s really just a hiccup or two. Like Zika. I have roughly a hundred mosquito bites from a trip to Mexico and like to tell everyone I have Zika. Because even if I had it, it wouldn’t actually matter! I’m not pregnant or getting pregnant and it goes away. I literally had no idea it went away; I thought it was like something you were stuck with forever, because the media makes it seem like such a death sentence that will ruin all future breeding.

  2. Yes! So happy to read this post and really interested to hear your opinion! I actually haven’t seen much negative press about the olympics, but maybe I’m just following positive people? Thanks for sharing; it’s really interesting!

  3. So true that a lot of media is scaremongering ahead of most Olympics and the above points by people are the usual bore-yawn that media are good at!! But I would say that a lot of criticism levelled at this Olympics (or at least what I have seen) and many others is to do with the social and economic impact they can have in an area. It can range from crippling debt to exacerbating existing tensions to just a plain bag of wind that got left behind for locals to wonder what the hell that was (London for instance!)
    All of the above complaints about Rio are certainly stupid and unnecessary, you are right. But it also makes me uncomfortable how much peoppe ignore big issues for the sake of the olympic dream. And what happens when everyone leaves…

  4. Thanks for writing this! It’s interesting to read about what it’s really like in a place surrounded by so much media hype. Glad to know it’s not the catastrophe it sounds like in the news. I’m loving your photos and updates!

  5. I scheduled this last night to share on my Twitter today. I am so thankful that you (and also Megan!) are speaking out. I woke up this morning to find #UpdatedRioOlympicEvents trending on Twitter and I felt compelled to come back and write you a comment letting you know how incredibly important I think this is. It is hurting my heart to see people act this way over something that should bring the whole world closer together – not ostracize Rio.

    THANK YOU! And I am SO excited for these next weeks!!

  6. Thank you SO much for writing this post! I’m so happy to finally hear positive things from someone who is actually there. I, for one, am beyond excited about the Olympics! Well done, lady!

  7. Props! I for one am PSYCHED to follow your adventures in Rio! Carry on.

  8. Ugh YES! My sister in law is from Brazil and I live in Puerto Rico. We had a long, hard laugh at the Zika mania. If you were to believe the media, every other person in Brazil and Puerto Rico would be infected with Zika. I have lived in PR for 2 years and other mosquito-born viruses (dengue and chikungunya) were MUCH more prevelant. I am a mosquito magnet, I literally have to wear OFF in my house, but guess what? NO ZIKA. My sister in law said the same thing about Brazil. If the media is that insane about Zika drama, I can only imagine how exaggerated the olympics stuff is!

  9. Schadenfreude? (yes, I had to Google that hihi) Props!!! I really detest the media for painting Rio this way. We visited in 2010 and it’s holds a special place in our hearts. Thanks for writing this. Not going to lie, I was trying to find you during the Opening Ceremony… LOL! Have fun out there. ;)

  10. Did you watch a recent episode of Real Sports on HBO devoted to the Olympics? It was really eye-opening.

  11. This is SUCH AN AMAZING POST. Strongly written, strongly worded. I’ve been seeing the hysteria too and thinking it was overhyped and borderline discriminatory. I’ve been slacking on writing a piece about my trip to Brazil last year– your post serves as a reminder that I should pick it back up again. Bravo!

    • http://www.vox.com/2016/8/4/12360396/rio-summer-olympics-problems-ready

      “Even if the Olympics come off seamlessly — and at this point, Brazil could benefit from very low expectations — it won’t necessarily be a victory. Athens is a useful parallel here: After the chaotic preparations, the fact that the games were held at all might have seemed like a huge success. But the Athens Olympics piled on to Greece’s ballooning public debt, contributing to the country’s economic crisis a decade later.

      For Brazil, the risk isn’t just that something will go badly, embarrassingly wrong in Rio. It’s that the country spent billions of dollars, amid a period of economic crisis, in exchange for an uncertain promise of publicity and a bigger role on the global stage.

      The biggest beneficiaries of Olympic spending, as Alex Cuadros documented in the Atlantic, have been the elite who own land in the wealthy suburb of Barra de Tijuca. The athletes’ village will become a gated community, not subsidized housing. Brazil has hidden its favelas, famously crime-ridden poor neighborhoods, from international visitors flooding into town; it hasn’t been able to improve lives there in the way it hoped to when it won the Olympic bid.”

      • Also, watch this:

        • WordPress doesn’t seem to be letting me add any more comments to the thread below, so I’m putting my response here:

          I replied to this yesterday but it clearly didn’t publish. But yes, if an issue was really that important to the global community, I *would* expect it to dominate the front pages around the world. The US isn’t hosting anything and yet news of our election is plastered across thousands of papers around the world — because it affects so many people on the international stage.

          If people were as concerned about Chinese pollution as they claimed to be in 2008, they’d still be writing about it. But they aren’t. Just like how I bet after Rio is over, none of the media will give a damn about the condition of Guanabara Bay anymore.

  12. Interesting look at Rio. What do you think of this article:

    http://thebiglead.com/2016/07/27/megan-kalmoe-2016-olympics/

    “Media members are not your teammates. They don’t and should not wear “rally caps.” They are there to cover news. Why does the media focus on things like crime, violent policing, environmental destruction, the near complete meltdown of a corrupt government, the terrible infrastructure, or the possible exacerbation of a global health pandemic in Brazil? Because that’s news.”

    Why did the media fixate on the air pollution in China when you went to the Olympics in 2008? Because it’s a horrific problem, that takes a toll of thousands of Chinese lives…per day. That’s before one gets to the impact unchecked Chinese pollution and growth may have on the broader climate.

    Covering the unsavory things going in Brazil during the Olympics is not “insulting” the Brazilian people. Ignoring them in service of a jingoistic schmaltz assault would be an abdication of responsibility to them. The media fixates on the negative things and exposes them because otherwise no one else will.

    If you want “Western” outlets to lead the bandwagon and gloss over the human impact of rampant corruption, there may be some “Eastern” outlets better suited to your tastes.”

    • What I think is that yes, the media are meant to be reporting on news — but they should be doing it impartially. That’s the core of good journalism. The news that comes out of Rio is tinged with hints of schadenfreude, because they know it’ll sell (the way they covered the NZ athlete is a perfect example). At this point the media are no better than a PR machine, spinning stories at angles that suit them.

      By all means, focus on crime. Focus on corruption and infrastructure. But I was also in China for the 2008 Olympics — the media reported on the pollution ad nauseum as it affected them and their athletes (i.e. foreigners), but as soon as they left Beijing, no one gave give a shit about how it affected the locals. Where are the hundreds of daily articles *now*, talking about the horrific problem of Chinese pollution and its impact on global climate change?

      The media shouldn’t kid themselves into thinking they’re the saviors of the Brazilians by reporting on everything negative going on in the country. They’re exploiting it because of the ties to the Olympics. And if you think they’re doing it for any loftier reason, you’re kidding yourself.

      • Google “pollution” and “China” and you’ll find what you’re looking for

        • Not even close to the extent articles were popping up in 2008. Back then it was hundreds a day, front page news. When was the last time you saw a Chinese pollution headline dominant the front pages?

          • That’s because China was hosting the Olympics – it’s only natural that the country would be in the front pages. When South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010, I’m sure the country attracted a lot more new articles than now. Obviously at the time of the World Cup, the country was front page news everyday. Do you expect South Africa headlines to dominate the front page everyday in 2016 – in the U.S., U.K., etc.?

          • I replied to this yesterday but it clearly didn’t publish. But yes, if an issue was really that important to the global community, I *would* expect it to dominate the front pages around the world. The US isn’t hosting anything and yet news of our election is plastered across thousands of papers around the world — because it affects so many people on the international stage.

            If people were as concerned about Chinese pollution as they claimed to be in 2008, they’d still be writing about it. But they aren’t. Just like how I bet after Rio is over, none of the media will give a damn about the condition of Guanabara Bay anymore.

        • I replied to this yesterday but it clearly didn’t publish. But yes, if an issue was really that important to the global community, I *would* expect it to dominate the front pages around the world. The US isn’t hosting anything and yet news of our election is plastered across thousands of papers around the world — because it affects so many people on the international stage.

          If people were as concerned about Chinese pollution as they claimed to be in 2008, they’d still be writing about it. But they aren’t. Just like how I bet after Rio is over, none of the media will give a damn about the condition of Guanabara Bay anymore.

  13. Long time lurker here, and feel compelled to comment. You are usually sooooo spot on and I always find myself agreeing with many of the things you have to say. Your analysis is usually on point, absent of typical blog fluff and keen-on and both sensitive-to life’s real, non-western lenses issues.

    However, I’m utterly surprised at this post. I understand that media bias is real; I too am also disgusted by it. But we can’t just simply ignore the fact that there are some real heavy and hard-hitting issues right now in both Rio and the country as a whole, things that shouldn’t be overshadowed by sport that to many may seem even frivolous. I’ll direct you to this story by Democracy Now last Friday to give you a better idea of my thoughts (spaces between the dots so it doesn’t get spammed): www. democracynow. org / shows/ 2016/ 8 / 5?autostart=true

    I also understand that this isn’t a blog on international relations issues, rather your opinion as a traveler and sports industry professional and can respect that.

    • Hi Nicole – thanks for the comment, really appreciate the respectful dissent. I totally get where you’re coming from, and I actually agree with you — I don’t know if you saw the comment above yours, but I wrote a few of my thoughts there on it.

      Basically, I am *all for* the media covering the hard-hitting issues. That’s their job (when done properly anyway), and I would love nothing more than if the Olympics brought about change to real problems in the host city. I absolutely respect the stories that have been well-researched and properly reported, like the one you linked to.

      What I have a beef with is when media exploit stories for the sake of gleefully poking holes in the host city’s preparations or reputation. The “Oooh, look how they’ve fucked up now!” type angle. That’s not proper journalism. Most of them just take a tidbit and run with it — like the NZ athlete story; or like when there was a security training exercise at venue involving a small controlled explosion, and at first media were so eager to jump on the bandwagon and say ‘someone’s left a backpack and there’s terrorism already at Maracana’! Where was the journalism in that? The fact-checking?

      There’s far too much of the latter involved around the media these days, and not enough of the former. That’s what I’m railing against in this post. I hope that makes sense. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  14. Verocious Trips says:

    Loved reading this!! I am so glad you share the reality of being there versus what can easily be spun by media about all the negativity surrounding Zika, among other things!

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