Unity versus negativity: what should we take from Rio 2016?

Over the last couple of months, on a number of occasions, I’ve heard people say “there’s been no hype or build-up to these Olympics,” and to an extent, it’s true.

While at the beginning of summer the sporting excitement of Euro 2016 took centre stage, even amongst the flurry of news stories of conflict and security threats, any sort of hype about the Olympics quietly slipped under the radar. As a football fan, I almost forgot the Olympics was even happening. This was to be expected, at least until the Euros finished. What has been worrying about the absent build-up is the seemingly contagious outbreak of negativity surrounding this year’s Games that’s taken its place.

For both Brazil and the wider stage, this is dangerous.

rio 2016

Once the public has formed perceptions on a global event like the Olympics, they tend to stick, especially negative ones. These negative perceptions set a dangerous precedent; if we perceive these Olympics as a disaster, it shows that not even one of the biggest global events can bring everyone together, and it doesn’t do Brazil any favours either.

The 2016 Olympic Games is the second major sporting event held in Brazil in the last three years, along with the 2014 World Cup, and the wide disparity between rich and poor in the country is no secret. With billions being spent on sporting infrastructure while the poorest are still struggling to survive, many argue that Brazil shouldn’t have been chosen to host the Olympics. This makes it hard to generate positive press – Brazil is an easy target – yet more should have been done earlier on to combat the wave of negative press.

It’s clear that some issues are unavoidable. The Zika virus led household names such as Rory McIlroy to withdraw from the golf, and doping scandals led to the provisional suspension of Russian track and field athletes. These have all been extensively reported in the mainstream media, and with all this, there is no denying that the Olympics got off to a poor start.

Brazil has its problems and they’re not going to stop just for the Olympics, but there are better ways to deal with them than others. When bullets were found near the Equestrian Centre and in the press office, it wasn’t too surprising. But when Mario Andrada, the communications director of Rio 2016, simply commented that he can’t guarantee security, questions must be raised – even if making the event run smoothly was an impossible job, surely its problems can be handled better? Andrada also said that the water could have been improved faster, in reference to the over-chlorination of the pools as a ‘solution’ to the untreated water. It’s been a succession of disasters made worse by being poorly handled. However, it is important to remember that the roots of these problems are not poor PR.

It’s a shame, because the Olympics is such a fantastic event. As well as showcasing the world’s best sporting talent, it has the potential to display international unity and solidarity, which is so important in times of insecurity.

So instead of creating a general perception of negativity, surely it would be better to focus on unity and achievement from the start, generating positivity? After all, no one wants a disappointing Olympics.

One of the most striking and memorable things I’ve seen so far from these Games is a photograph of two gymnasts from North and South Korea taking a selfie together. This is exactly the kind of thing the Olympics should represent and what should be talked about. Despite the hostility that exists between the two countries, these athletes put this aside in an amazing act of unity. This is what needs to be focused on in order to begin to counteract the negativity. The public should be seeing the Games as a friendly sporting competition between countries, creating solidarity, and to be remembered as something positive in years to come.

It’s not too late – there is still time to achieve this.

Hopefully more fantastic stories of great achievement, such as the ten refugees competing as part of a Refugee Olympic Team, can step up to the podium and contest the negativity.

Curtis Mansfield
Student, University of Birmingham