Standing in a rainy, unfilled stadium on Sunday night, bringing the curtain down on Rio 2016, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, invited us all to admire the emperor’s new clothes.
‘These were marvellous Olympic Games in THE marvellous city!’ the German fencer-turned-lawyer proclaimed.
As he and the rest of the IOC head for home this week, it’s easy to picture them sinking into their first-class seats, stiff drink in hand, and emitting a huge sigh of relief: ‘Phewee! We just about got away with that . . .’
There were no major disasters. No athletes — to date — have gone down with the zika virus. And Copacabana Beach looked lovely on the telly.
Robert Hardman says at some events, you could measure the vacant plastic by the acre, as stadiums were left partly empty
Back in Rio de Janeiro, of course, nothing changes. The shootings continue. The poverty continues. The 30 per cent of the population with no sanitation now have even less chance of a flushing lavatory because the city has blown the budget on crummy sporting facilities.
But that is of little concern to the IOC, the hosts and the broadcasters — keen to justify their vast outlay — who have all been telling us that we have witnessed a wonderful Games. For the BBC has certainly been taking a triumphalist line as it wraps up the events of the past fortnight.
The water in the diving pool at Rio’s aquatics centre was green at several events during the games
As well as empty seats, the Olympic pool turned a strange shade of green and there were reports that the catering was so poor, some of Team GB chose to live off cereal bars
While we can all agree that the UK’s athletes have done brilliantly and that the Beeb has covered them superbly, there is also an inescapable sense of major problems being swept under the carpet.
And when these have been impossible to hide, they have merely been brushed aside. An Olympic swimming pool turning the colour of pea soup? Never mind. One BBC commentator jokily asked: ‘Shrek taken an overnight dip?’
What about all those empty seats day after day, night after night? At some events, you could measure the vacant plastic by the acre. Yet I never heard a presenter offer anything more than a cursory excuse about high ticket prices and the fact that Brazilians aren’t very interested in sports they’re not good at.
So much for all that claptrap about ‘a nation of sport-lovers’.
I certainly haven’t heard anyone going back to a central section of Rio’s Olympic bid. So I have dug it out again.
Pledging the first ‘Full Stadiums Program’ [sic] in Olympic history, the Rio organisers had sworn to deliver ‘an unprecedented level of excitement’ at every event with ‘a range of innovations which, for the first time, will more fully match supply and demand’.
At the Discus and 100 metres women hurdles events, it appeared that only a small percentage of the Olympic Athletics stadium was filled
Fans at the Olympic equestrian team event in Deodoro, Rio 2016 Olympics
Pure, 24-carat tosh.
Throw in all the other problems — chaotic transport, a bullet fired through a press bus (dismissed as a ‘stone’ by the organisers), disgusting accommodation (Team GB had to employ a full-time plumber), lamentable catering (some British athletes chose to live off cereal bars rather than risk the Olympic village food), vanishing volunteers — and these Games were not ‘marvellous’. They were a shambles.
Having returned home yesterday, some of our athletes finally admitted that the emperor’s new clothes were not so fine after all. Cyclist Joanna Rowsell Shand spoke of dodgy wiring, athletes being stuck in lifts and a particularly revolting plate of undercooked chicken.
The worst is yet to come, though. Because while the Rio Olympics may have scraped over the finish — rather like that runner from the Bahamas who won the 400 metres diving over the line — the Rio Paralympics appear to be nothing short of a scandal.
With two weeks to go before the opening ceremony, the man in charge has admitted that the pot is empty and that these Games face the gravest crisis in the 56-year history of the Paralympic movement. Venues are being shut and transport schedules torn up.
China’s athletes shared the images above, left and right, declaring the Rio Games the ‘worst Olympics ever’ with questionable wiring and a broken bathroom
The Xinhua media team shared this image as they fixed their broken shower rail when they arrived at the Olympic village
Promised travel grants have yet to appear and at least ten nations now face the unthinkable: not reaching Rio at all.
Why? Because the money earmarked for the disabled has all been used to plug the gaps in the events for the able-bodied.
Last week, Sir Philip Craven, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, revealed that things were dire. He had even been in a meeting at which Brazil’s interim president, Michel Temer, was picking up the phone to make frantic appeals for extra Paralympic funding.
‘We are working every hour possible to bring many moving pieces together,’ said Sir Philip, gallantly attempting a positive spin on it all.
One problem is ticket sales. So far, the ‘sport-loving’ Brazilian public has bought just 12 per cent of the tickets.
Another victory, then, for Rio’s ‘Full Stadiums Program’.
Venue operations staff look at a bullet hole inside the media centre, left, at the Olympic Equestrian Centre and a bullet is spotted on the ground, right, on the first day of the games
In London 2012, the public showed unprecedented support for sports they had never even heard of. I remember those packed arenas for wheelchair rugby and goalball. The Paralympians said they had never known anything like it. Yet, in Rio, world-class athletes could be giving the performance of their lives in front of the sort of crowd you get at a Sunday morning pub fixture. What makes this so unforgivable is the breach of trust.
Let us turn again to that Rio bid document. Item 10.12.1 states: ‘While Rio 2016 will at all times adopt fiscally responsible and conservative policies, the delivery of the Paralympic Games . . . will be the lead consideration in relation to all financial decisions.’
In other words, Paralympic funding will be guaranteed.
Now, with days to go, they have the temerity to say that the money’s gone. How cynical can you get?
Rio’s apologists will point out that the country has taken an economic nosedive since being awarded the Games in 2009. But that’s no excuse.
Britain took a hammering in the 2009 recession and still produced an excellent event. And the original £130 million budget for the entire Paralympics is less than 5 per cent of Rio’s total Olympic spend.
Even so, it is the IOC which is ultimately responsible for turning the modern Olympics into this ruinous behemoth.
Given all that has happened in Rio, you might imagine that the time has come to start trimming this circus back to more manageable dimensions.
But the emperor was having none of it on Sunday night.
Sir Steve Redgrave and Katherine Grainger, pictured left, step off the plane in Heathrow after returning from Rio. Pictured right, Helen Glover, left and Heather Stanning, right, show their medals from the Olympic rowing
Some of Team GB pose for a selfie as they return to Heathrow, but Robert Hardman says despite the success, the games were a scandal this year
Continuing his address at the closing ceremony, Thomas Bach went on: ‘History will talk about a Rio de Janeiro before and a much better Rio de Janeiro after the Olympic Games.’
Of course it won’t. If these Games were a mess, their legacy will be dismal. But then, the IOC has been peddling this sort of rubbish for years. Every modern Olympics promises peace, love, prosperity and fluffy bunnies for eternity.
Remember Munich 1972 (11 dead), Montreal 1976 (bankruptcy), Sarajevo 1984 (followed by war), Athens 2004 (more bankruptcy)?
Remember how we were promised that the 2012 Games would get the whole of Britain hauling itself off the sofa and staggering to the nearest sports field while London’s East End would become a temple of sport? The Government even rebranded them as ‘The Legacy Games’.
Rio may have shown us what a great feat of organisation London 2012 truly was. But what did we actually get for our £9.3 billion? It now turns out that sporting participation has actually gone down while obesity is up.
Oh, well. At least West Ham United fans have a lovely new stadium courtesy of the taxpayer . . .
Rio reminds us, yet again, that the Olympics never deliver.
But as long as we get an astounding fortnight of televised sporting brilliance — and Team GB has certainly delivered on that score —then we are happy to forget all that ‘legacy’ hokum and all those broken promises.
But for how much longer?