Friday, 15 July 2016

21 Days Away

The single biggest event in the celebration of athletic endeavors will begin in exactly three weeks, and I'm sure Rio de Janiero will be lit up like the image to the left as the world descends upon the Brazilian city. HBIC will be devoting several articles worth of coverage to the field hockey event from afar thanks to my non-existent international travel budget. However, that might be a good thing thanks to the numerous athletes who have cited medical concerns for traveling as well as the general unrest in the country itself. While I generally think the Olympics are an excellent way for a number of athletes to gain recognition for themselves and their sports, it might be time to re-think the entire Olympic experience as a whole.

We already are aware of the Zika virus and the related medical conditions it causes, and there have been numerous athletes from across the globe that have indicated those risks are not ones that they are willing to take when it comes to their chosen athletic competition. Other athletes have simply declined the offer to compete in the Olympics for their own personal reasons. No one will ever be forced to compete at an Olympic Games in modern times, but to see some of the planet's best athletes in their sports not competing is a bit of a letdown.

But Teebz, you say, this is a hockey blog. How about talking some hockey? I hear you. However, indulge me for a second. There is some field hockey news at the bottom.

As I was saying, what should concern the athletes more than the Zika virus is the environment into which they are stepping. Not only is the natural environment in which events will be staged heavily polluted and has the potential for far worse diseases to be transmitted, the socio-economic and political environments of Rio de Janiero are supercharged with protestors and angry citizens expressing their discontent over the spending done by and the corruption of the government making these decisions.

The natural environments are something to behold in Brazil with beaches that boast white sands, hours of sunshine, and warm water. Oh, and fecal matter. Yes, if you thought that a Brazil vacation would be anything but poopy, you'd be wrong. As written by Olga Khazan in The Atlantic,
The AP lanced that bubble last year with two investigations based on independent water-quality testing. The first, published in July, found that in certain venues, Olympic athletes are "almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach." In December, a second round of tests showed that the Olympic waterways teem with viruses and bacteria even far from land.
That was one year ago when the July report came out, and six months ago when the December report came out. Brazil is still pumping raw sewage into many waterways, and officials have admitted that they won't meet the goal of treating the water that competitors will be on.
Officials have already admitted they won't meet their stated goal of treating 80 percent of the sewage that flows into the bay. It's more like 65 percent, according to the most recent estimate. There have been murmurs about moving the sailing venues further into the open ocean, where the water might be cleaner, but some athletes said they'd rather stick with the water they've trained on. And less than five months out, it's far too late to change the host city.
Honestly, I'm not sure I'd accept an invitation to Rio with Team Canada for any water-based sport at this time. When you read, "The AP found that ingesting just three teaspoons of its waters would result in a '99 percent' chance of infection," that's kind of off-putting when it comes to competing at the Olympics.

"It surprises me that the [International] Olympic Committee would have accepted at face value that Rio would provide an elaborate, integrated water and sewage treatment system" before the Olympics, William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Miss Khazan. "These things take years to build and they're enormously expensive. I think they cast a blind eye... when they made that decision."

Personally, this seems like a travesty of the worst kind when you consider how many athletes will compete in water-based events. However, it's not just the water sports that are seeing problems as access to venues and the Olympic Village. The "Red Line" road - better known in Brazil as the "highway of terror" - must be traveled by all fans and athletes going to and from the Olympic Games, and it has seen its share of scary incidents lately as well.

Over the last few months, there have been regular carjackings and hostages taken by rival gangs whose territories lie on either side of the highway that runs from Rio's international airport into the city. There have been shootouts across the highway with bullets flying from both gangs and police. In the middle are innocent civilians who are simply trying to navigate the highway, the same thing every athlete, coach, team official, distinguished guest, and fan will have to do at some point in their quest for Rio gold. And yes, there have been innocent civilians killed.

At this point, it seems like everyone involved with these Olympic Games is rolling the dice with the lives of all those who make the event memorable.

Even the field hockey venue isn't immune to stupidity. At the Olympic Hockey Centre in Deodora, the only way to get to the facility is via public transit as there is no parking anywhere near the facility. Once you get off either the Magalhães Bastos train, it's a 21-minute, 1.5-kilometre walk to the the entrance of Deodoro Olympic Park! Who designs a public stadium without any sort of public parking (without mentioning Laval)?

Ok, complaints aside, I expect the field hockey events in Rio to be rather exciting and entertaining. The women's event will run from August 6-19 while the men will play from August 6-20. For the first time ever in an Olympic field hockey event, the medal round will see quarterfinal matches played! The top-four teams in each pool will qualify for the medal rounds, and there are great games between some of the dominant teams in the field hockey world getting early on in the competition!

On the opening day of the men's event, Netherlands, who won silver at the 2012 London Games and are the reigning European champions, take on Pan-American champions Argentina! Later that evening, the second game of the women's event finds reigning Hockey World League champions and London 2012 silver medalists Argentina looking to avenge their Pan-American Games final loss to the USA!

Needless to say, there's a lot to be excited for in the coming weeks if you're a fan of field hockey. I'll try to do a run down of each of the pools for both the men's and women's events in the coming weeks as well. While the Rio Olympics might be tarnished with everything that has gone wrong and what could go wrong, the field hockey event sees the majority of the world's best teams coming together for the ultimate tournament!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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