Why you should watch the Rio Olympics

  • Aug. 10, 2016 4:58 p.m.

Have you heard that the Summer Olympics are happening in Rio de Janeiro right now? Apparently it’s a pretty big deal, at least that’s what the constant ads on CBC have been telling me.

In all seriousness, it would be pretty hard to avoid hearing about the massive international sports meet. Between all of the problems that the Games faced leading up to last Friday’s Opening Ceremonies and the sporting events themselves, Rio 2016 has been dominating the news landscape over the past month and a half; and not necessarily for the right reasons.

I’m not going to sugarcoat things here. Between the Russian doping scandals, fears over the Zika virus, the high levels of pollution in the waters around the city, the state of the Athlete’s Village and the overall political turmoil that Brazil finds itself in, I’d have to say that these Olympics are off to the rockiest start in recent memory.

Don’t get me wrong, there are always issues at the start of every Olympics. In Vancouver in 2010 it was the warm weather that was melting the snow, in London in 2012 there were concerns over security and Sochi 2014 had the LGBT rights protests to worry about.

But something about these Olympics seems different. Maybe it’s the fact that besides the various scandals and protests that accompany any major event, the Rio Olympics have also faced growing concerns about the safety of their venues, many of which were built specifically for 2016.

I mean, there was a report on Saturday that an Olympic kayaker had capsized after hitting a submerged sofa. Yeah, for real. An underwater couch. At an Olympic venue.

And while those reports have so far not been corroborated by anyone and the organizers of the event are currently investigating the claim, you really have to wonder: did anybody on the Olympic committee think that maybe they should do an underwater sweep of their venues to check for discarded sofas or washing machines before the athletes got out on the water? I don’t know – just a thought.

But despite all of the scandals and issues that have surrounded the roll out of the event in Rio this week, there has been a silver lining: the Games themselves have been pretty good so far.

I mean is there any other event besides the Summer Olympics that an average Canadian sports fan will sit down in front of their TV and watch an entire Beach Volleyball match without thinking about changing the channel once?

That’s what I spent my Sunday night doing, as Red Deer’s Chaim Schalk and his partner, Ben Saxton took on Latvia’s Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Jānis Šmēdiņš (yes I had to Google those spellings) in preliminary action.

As a qualifier to my next point, I’d like to give a point of comparison. In the past year, I’ve watched and reported on everything from rugby to hockey to golf.

I was there for the Memorial Cup Final between the London Knights and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, which ended in overtime. It was incredible. So believe me when I say that Sunday night’s beach volleyball match was one of the most exciting things that I have seen this year.

Canada lost the final and deciding set by just two points and while it was disappointing, it was heartening to see the Canadian athletes smiling and taking it in stride. Because they’re at the Olympics and that’s still something special.

By the way, that Latvian team came into the tournament ranked number one in the world, so the local boys did pretty darn well.

The Olympics are a time where sports that don’t generally get a lot of coverage are put into the spotlight on prime time television for the world to see. It’s a time when volleyball players, swimmers, cyclists, archers and other athletes from every sport and every discipline get to showcase their talents and when the world gets to experience sports they don’t often get the chance to see.

I guess what I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter that these Olympics have been somewhat mired in controversy so far. Because they’re still the Olympics and they’re still worth watching.