The pointed, caustic and intended-to-embarrass comments whipped around the globe this week because that's exactly what the International Olympic Committee wanted.
The IOC decided to stage its grandiose Summer Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, even though any reasonable mind could see there was little to no infrastructure in place, a culture that isn't accustomed to completing such massive projects overnight and a populace that was never going to embrace spending precious public dollars on placating the gold-plated tastes of "international sporting administrators."
With the 2016 Olympics now two years out, it predictably doesn't look like Rio can deliver all the glitz and glamour the IOC believes it is entitled. And so here come wave after wave of complaints, attacks and dire comments through the media.
This week it was John D. Coates, an IOC vice president, who declared the Rio preparation is "the worst I have experienced." He also said the IOC has "become very concerned" and said it's "unprecedented" someone like him has to keep traveling to Rio to try to get the locals to do anything.
Maybe you saw the story. Maybe you missed it. Don't worry, there will be another one just like it soon enough. These guys don't let up.
This is how the IOC plays, and this why governments around the world – and the people who elect those governments – need to stop dealing with it.
Now, Coates is likely telling the truth; Rio probably is the worst in terms of preparation. But IOC officials say the same about almost every Olympics.
The issue isn't that Brazil's progress is slowed by prep for this summer's World Cup – it's worth noting FIFA is just as terrible of an organization. Or that there are neighborhoods under the plague of street violence sitting so close to planned facilities. Or that this is a nation of populism and worker strikes. Or that polluted waterways generate unpleasant smells (the New York Times reported just 35 percent of Rio's sewage is treated). Or …
It's that none of this should surprise anyone. It's that none of this is a new development.
Rio is Rio, the same Rio it ever was. Just because the IOC convinced a desperate and delusional politician to promise the country would build another epic sporting playground doesn't change it.
This is an equal opportunity con job here, local politicians and international sportsmen, both pretending this makes sense, both claiming spending billions on oversized stadiums and temporary housing and kayaking courses is a good idea.
They both get drunk on each other's sweet whispers. It's just when the IOC doesn't think it's being treated properly, it goes vengeful and runs to the media. It ought to date Donald Sterling.
"Probably these federations will keep complaining about me until the day the Olympics start, because sometimes they want us to do things that are too large," Rio mayor Eduardo Paes told reporters in Brazil last week. "They are making demands about the stadiums, but I will not accept them."
His example? Paes said the International Tennis Federation's Francesco Ricci Bitti, who doubles as a higher-up in the IOC, demanded Rio build a 20,000-seat tennis facility for the Games. Paes said he told Ricci Bitti a facility that size for tennis was ridiculous, unneeded and unnecessary.
Paes said a 10,000-seat stadium would be more than enough. There's been behind closed-door screaming matches over this, the mayor said. It's a pointless debate. As long as the courts aren't slanted or unplayable, then who cares how many rows of bleachers rise above or how many luxury boxes there are to hold the rich? Even 10,000 are probably too many.
The Tennis Federation disputes Paes charge, saying it is both fine and flexible on the current plan.
"The specific reference to tennis is both inaccurate and unfair because the existing project fully satisfies the requirement of a 10,000-seat center court stadium," the ITF said in a statement to Yahoo Sports. "The ITF has never requested that the center court capacity be changed."
That each side has such differing stories is symbolic of the problem. So too is that it must have been a coincidence when earlier this month the Associated Press moved another story of another IOC official blasting Rio, complete with dramatic warnings. The IOC official quoted? Francesco Ricci Bitti, of course.
"It's getting very serious," Ricci Bitti said. "…We are scared. This is not a country like China where you can ask people to work by night. In Brazil, this could not happen. The government has to change speed."
Yes, China, where the government bulldozed neighborhoods, displaced residents, abused endless labor and environmental practices and built scores of facilities that now sit around gathering dust.
That's the IOC ideal, someone that will throw them a party without a hint of concern about paying the band the next day.
"We are not going to deliver glamorous stadiums that will become 'white elephants' in the future, like Beijing did with the 'Birds' Nest,' " Paes said, of the now-cobwebbed 90,000-seat Chinese monstrosity, which, in fairness, sure did look cool for a few weeks back in the summer of 2008.
"My focus is on the legacy for my city," Paes said. "The demands are about the stadiums."
You build the IOC its stadiums (and seven-star hotels for the aristocrats to retire to at night), and there's no bullying of local officials about anything. Back in February, IOC president Thomas Bach couldn't stage enough photo ops of he and his buddy Vladimir Putin guzzling champagne together amidst the $51 billion Winter Games, complete with Bach taking swipes at President Obama. How'd that turn out, Thomas?
Make no mistake, local politicians like Paes are as much of the problem as the IOC. They get so swept up with the idea of becoming an "Olympic City" that they promise all sorts of unattainable things, on the backs of their taxpayers, in bids that are unrealistic.
In 1948, in the wake of World War II, the IOC ran the "Austerity Games" in London, understanding no one really had much money. For most of the 20th century, the Olympics were staged inside the existing and reasonable footprint of a city.
Now, everything is different. The IOC demands over-the-top structures and expenditures that will make all but a strong-armed dictator or communist government buckle. The result is the IOC (and FIFA) slowly running out of more fiscally conservative and established nations that won't say yes to everything.
Rio is a great place, colorful and unique and full of life. If the Olympics want to stage their Games there, then stage them and stage them like the Brazilians would. Take the good with the bad. Understand there is a trade. Be responsive to the citizens. If you allow yourself to get caught up in a street party, you tend to stop caring about the size of the tennis stadium.
The IOC sees it differently, and if its demands of getting everything – on its terms – aren't met, there will be retribution through an endless stream of humiliating headlines via the international media.
Consider the United States, which won't bend to the IOC. America's best plan to host again is to have the Winter Games return to Salt Lake City, which already has all the facilities built from 2002.
Such a recent return to the same city isn't exciting or glamorous to the IOC, however. It wants all the same facilities constructed all over again, either in Reno/Squaw Valley or Denver/Aspen, even though the latter of which is just a few hundred miles away. That is a truly senseless waste of billions.
It's why the USOC doesn't even know when it will bid on the Olympics again because America, the richest nation in the world and an excellent and loyal eight-time host, has essentially been priced and politicked out of the modern Games. It's rightfully wary and no doubt laughing at the "we-are-scared" comments from out-of-touch tennis officials.
After all, the IOC picked Rio over Chicago, where the plans and budget were less elaborate, but much of the needed facilities were already in place.
And now the IOC can't stop whining about it.
- Summer Olympics
- Sports & Recreation
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Eduardo Paes
- 2016 Olympics