Rio de Janeiro is both effervescent and dangerous. In the months leading up to the Olympics, we heard a lot of about the latter. Body parts washing up on a beach. Muggings. Murders.
All that made it easier to believe the fantastic tale American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte told last weekend. He and three teammates were held up by robbers dressed as police officers, he said. When Lochte refused to get down on the ground as instructed, one assailant put a gun to his forehead. Or so went his story.
Itturned out to be a case of U.S. swimmers behaving badly by damaging a bathroom at a gas station after a night of partying and, to protect their squeaky clean images, piling on Brazil’s woes. Some Brazilians understandably were offended. They have enough problems without bratty Americans making them look worse to the world. Lochte, 32, issued a semblance of an apology Friday. The U.S. Olympic Committee apologized to Brazilians; USA Swimming said the athletes could be disciplined.
Putting aside Lochte’s tall tale, Brazil has a lot of work ahead to reduce crime and clean up corruption in its government after the closing ceremony concludes Sunday. But before we get too smug and carried away knocking Rio and Brazil, let’s remember we are hardly without our own faults in the great city of Chicago. We, too, have a lot of cleaning up to do amid crime, corruption and scandals plaguing our city. The world would be hearing allabout it if Chicago had been selected as host for these Olympics back in 2009 instead of Rio.
In Chicago, violent crime is on the rise. Our school system is a financial wreck. Police officers are being caught in lies about shootings. Let’s not forget about corrupt former Illinois governors who went or are in the slammer.
When some journalists covering the Games in Rio reported being on a bus that had two windows pierced by bullets — Games officials said they could have been rocks — this probably wasn’t a shockto Rio’s residents. Residents in several Chicago neighborhoods are also all too familiar with ducking when bullets start flying.
Through Aug. 7, shootings in Chicago were up 48 percent and murders 43 percent from last year. This year more than 2,400 have been shot. Earlier this month, Chicago had its deadliest day in 13 years when nine people were shot and killed.
If Chicago had been host to these Games, gleaming images of the Bean in Millennium Park would have been held up against still images of Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a Chicago cop. Supt. Eddie Johnson wants to fire seven officers for allegedly lying in their reports of what happened. Talk about a city with an image problem.
To combat crime in Rio, Brazil deployed some 85,000 soldiers and cops.We’re not suggesting the Games went off without a hitch. Athletes from New Zealand and Britain really were robbed in separate incidents. TV broadcasts showed a lot of empty seats in stadiums, an indication fans stayed away.
Rio police and officials have been criticized for the crime and setbacks.Lochte and fellow swimmer James Feigen, 26, ignited the country’s ireby telling a lie that spread around the world almost as quickly as a sprint by Usain Bolt, all to spare their own behinds. Teammates Gunnar Bentz, 20, and Jack Conger, 21, who were with Lochte and Feigen when the vandalism at thegas station occurred, failed to speak up until Rio investigators pulled them from their plane departing to the U.S.
From the Games’ outset, it was clear Riowould fall short of its goals. It had wanted to show it’s a first-tier globalcity, on par with New York, London and Paris.Polluted waterways, poverty, crime and pervasive government corruption will keep it on the outside looking in.
“Brazil has a kind of inverted exceptionalism,”author Alex Cuadros wrote in the New Yorker. “Even with all of its natural resources, and its nearly continental size, it always seems to fall short of its potential, never managing to find its place in the club of developed nations.”
Yes, Rio is a flawed place with much work ahead. Now we have to get back to our own city’s problems.
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