Commentary

Olympics: Three cheers for Rio, it's a good job so far

Save the odd security issue, gripes are not justified considering complexity of event

Forget swimming, athletics or gymnastics, the strongest competition for any medals at this Rio Olympics will be for cribbing.

It is not just the swimmers who have been wagging disapproving fingers - albeit at each other - as the city, and Brazil, have come under heavy fire for what some commentators have called, the "worst Games in history".

But that would be grossly unjust. Every major multi-sports Games come with their share of problems. I've been to three and none were perfect. But even as there were issues with infrastructure (2009 Vientiane SEA Games), security (2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games) and transport (2011 Jakarta/Palembang SEA Games), these problems were also mostly exaggerated.

Granted, the spotlight on the Rio Games, with an expected five billion television audience, is more intense and with a reported US$12 billion (S$16 billion) budget, expectations are naturally inflated.

Some of the complaints are justified. There are 85,000 security personnel - an Olympic record - deployed but reports of stray gunfire, at the equestrian media tent and at a bus transporting journalists, plus a bomb scare at cycling, are disconcerting.

Other fears however, are looking disproportionate. The threat of Zika is largely minimal given the mosquitoes have mostly disappeared due to the cold temperatures - nights here do get chilly in winter (below 20 deg C) - and I've yet to see anyone use the bug spray given in the media kit.

Broken windows on an official media bus which shattered when journalists were driven from the Main Transport Mall from the Deodoro venue were originally feared to be caused by gunfire. But it turned out to be an "act of vandalism" carried out with ro
Broken windows on an official media bus which shattered when journalists were driven from the Main Transport Mall from the Deodoro venue were originally feared to be caused by gunfire. But it turned out to be an "act of vandalism" carried out with rocks, said the Rio security chief. PHOTO: REUTERS

Aside from the surreal sight of a green diving pool at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre, many sailors have played down the scale of water pollution at Guanabara Bay.

Rowing at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas has been affected but due to adverse weather conditions and there has been no other major disruption after six full days of competition.

Complaints about long queues to board buses and enter stadiums or overcooked burgers and a lack of chilli sauce - the endless gripe of the spectator in front of me as we queued for a hot dog at the rowing venue - really do belong under the hashtag of First World problems.

These were never going to be the perfect Games but South America's first Olympics are set in a bustling city accompanied by some of nature's most spectacular scenery. It is a worthy backdrop for the planet's finest athletes and it is time to show them, and Rio, some love.

The apartments at the Games Village may be spartan but as Venezuela's Olympic fencing champion Ruben Limardo told me, these are the Olympics, not a holiday.

Hosting the Olympics is an incredibly complex endeavour. Even the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia were beset by infrastructure issues in the days leading up to it.

Rio may have organised the 2007 Pan American Games but that involved about half of the 10,500 athletes from 206 countries and territories who are here. Throw in 25,000 journalists and the scale becomes even more substantial.

While Brazil staged the 2014 World Cup, that was a single sport in a country, and population, that is football-crazy. The stadiums, the best practices, the passion, were already mostly in place.

Many of the venues for these Olympics are in purpose-built arenas and the facilities are world class; both the Olympic Shooting Centre and the aquatics facility are wonderful amphitheatres for sport and while enthusiasm from the locals is a slow burner, it is building up nicely.

These were never going to be the perfect Games but South America's first Olympics are set in a bustling city accompanied by some of nature's most spectacular scenery.

It is a worthy backdrop for the planet's finest athletes and it is time to show them, and Rio, some love.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2016, with the headline 'Three cheers for Rio, it's a good job so far'. Print Edition | Subscribe