A Gold Medal for Rio Staff and Volunteers

by Rene A. Henry

            SEATTLE, Wash.,  – The International Olympic Committee needs to award one more gold medal. This gold needs to go to the volunteers and staff who made Rio’s 2016 Olympic Games a success. I do not remember any organizing committee ever faced with so many crises – a nearly bankrupt government; Zika; an impeached president; contractors who failed to complete projects; bay water in competition venues contaminated with raw sewage, garbage and body parts; crime; water turning green in swimming and diving pools; and the Lochte episode.

            The volunteers in Rio de Janiero worked long hours, traveled to and from venues at their own expense, and because of budgets and available resources, often were not even fed. The staff most likely was overworked and underpaid, if paid at all because of the Brazilian economy. They are all champions who made it possible and can be very proud of their accomplishment.

            During my professional career I was fortunate to consult and work with several Brazilian companies including Banco do Brasil, Banco do Estado do São Paulo and TV Globo. In every case the primary objective was to make the event or project the very best possible. This is how it all began when the IOC awarded the Games to Rio on June 4, 2008.

            A focal point of the Olympics was to be the Solar City Tower, a nearly 100-story waterfall built on an island in Guanabara Bay that would welcome visitors to the city arriving by air or sea. Solar panels covering the sides of the tower would also provide power to some of the venues and the Olympic Village. It also was to represent Brazil as a green leader in the 21st century.

            This could have been one of the most iconic buildings of any Olympic Games but unfortunately the tower was never built. When construction had not begun by 2013 or 2014 it should have sent a strong message to the powers that be in the IOC and the international sports federations should Rio de Janiero may be having financial problems. But these leaders are like the three monkeys who see, hear or say nothing. These are the same people who demand cities construct venues with sports facilities that may never be used again following the Olympics. Scores of these are in decaying ruins in Athens and Beijing.

            One person most responsible for the IOC awarding the Games to Rio de Janiero was João Havelange, one of the most powerful men in international sport. He also was responsible for Brazil being awarded the FIFA World Cup in 2014. He did live to see the Games begin but was100 years old when he died August 16. A businessman and lawyer he headed the world soccer federation for nearly 25 years until 1998 and its modest income increased to more than US$250 billion annually.

            The importance of volunteers is exemplified by the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Volunteers freely gave of their time to get the bid for the city compared to other cities that begin the process with a paid staff. There are reports that Chicago, which lost the 2016 bid to Rio, spent more than $17 million on staff. Los Angeles had a very small organizing committee that was paid on performance and this is one reason it made a profit of more than US$250 million. I doubt if any other city will ever repeat that.


Rene A. Henry lives in Seattle and has been involved in sports at all levels for more than five decades. He is the author of nine books and many of his commentaries are posted on his website at www.renehenry.com.

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