By Barry Janoff
July 31, 2016: People and athletes may be talking about the Zika virus, water pollution, security challenges and financial and political woes, but Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, while not completely closing his eyes to the situation, is seeing the 2016 Summer Games through rose-colored glasses.
During a press conference in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, where the Olympics are scheduled to start this week, Bach offered a largely optimistic view of things to come.
"‘When I arrived five days ago, I went straight to the Olympic Village," Bach told media and others from around the world. "After talking to Chefs de Mission, NOCs (National Olympic Committees) and athletes I could sense a positive attitude and a great spirit.
"There has been a great deal of understanding with all the NOCs and athletes working together to make this village a success. Things are coming together."
Brazil and host city Rio have been faced with problems that appear before many Olympics: unfinished venues, roads under construction and preparing an infrastructure for the added weight of hundreds of athletes with their entourages as well as the expected arrival of hundreds of thousands of tourists.
What is unique here, however, is the real and potential dangers of Zika, water pollution and local and national governments dealing with what has been called apocalyptic. Following two years of severe decline, Brazil president Dilma Rousseff was accused of being part of a financial corruption scandal and replaced by vice president Michel Temer.
Bach said that the IOC is supporting the Rio Organizing Committee with financial aid to help balance the budget for the Summer Games, according to the Associated Press. The financial support "is helping the organizing committee to make sure that these Games will be the success we all want it to be."
Also of utmost concern is security, always a top priority at the Olympics, but heightened to a new level here due to the devastating attacks against citizens by ISIS and others, A force of 80,000 police and soldiers are said to be on-hand.
But even here the situation is still facing hurdles. This past Friday, the Brazilian government fired Artel, a private security firm whose key job was to hire security guards needed to man Olympic venues. The company produced only 500 of the required 3,000 workers. The government said it would fill the positions with soldiers and former police officers.
"There will be last minute challenges, but what we have seen so far is that Brazilians are capable of addressing challenges, and I am more confident than ever that that we will have great Games à la Brazil in five days from now," said Bach.
A number of world-ranked athletes have withdrawn from participating in the Games, with the catalyst being Zika and other health issues, including tennis players Mike and Bob Ryan and golfers Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson.
The IOC is also dealing with drug-testing issues and repercussions, highlighted by the situation with Russia, in which some of its athletes have been banned from the Summer Games after failing drug tests but, as some had seen as a solution, not a blanket ban of all athletes.
"There will be last minute challenges, but what we have seen so far is that Brazilians are capable of addressing challenges."
"There have been many measures we’ve undertaken before the Games," said Bach. "We want to keep as many cheaters away from the Games as possible. We had a targeted testing program, for which 2,200 athletes were selected, after having monitored their testing history. (These were athletes) which had made the biggest jumps in their performance. We had 700 recommendations for extra testing.
"On top of this, we have the most comprehensive re-analysis program for Beijing 2008 and London 2012, with 1,200 tests completed.," said Bach. "[There have been] 98 tests positive, as of today. In Rio, we will have up to 4,500 tests for urine and 1,000 tests for blood."
Problems not withstanding, summed up Bach, "I am looking forward to great Games."
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