Why you should care
Because global sports fans face a dilemma this year.
Smelly cheese does nothing for me, two of my ex-girlfriends are French, and my Francophile phase has long since ended. I do, however, love Brazil, land of the “tall and tan and young and lovely.” My visit to the 2014 World Cup was an orgasmic carnival.
Nevertheless, this summer I am choosing France, and the Euro 2016, over the Rio Olympics. So should you.
To the extent you’re hankering for a truly global sporting event, look no further than soccer. Everyone can play it, and almost everyone does. I’ve played footy in the savannas of Kenya, the deserts of Israel and the mountains of Vietnam. Along the way, countless strangers have turned into friends. Each nation brings its own style: Brazilians dribble as if swaying to samba, the conquistadors tiki-taka to the rhythm of flamenco, and Germans bulldoze with brutal efficiency. Forget wrestling or synchronized swimming: It’s soccer that’s “the beautiful game,” as Pelé famously said.
Now let’s consider Rio 2016. The Games are shaping up to be a national trauma on par with Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 trumping at the feet of the Germans in 2014, a tragicomedy of Zika mosquitoes, corrupt politicians, doping Russians, uncompleted facilities, overflowing sewage, razed favelas and police brutality. Brazil’s only consolation goal? The natural charm of the Cariocas. “Rio looks poorer now than four years ago,” one of those Cariocas, Leopoldo Serao, laments. Brazil’s economy shrank by almost 4 percent last year, and the state of Rio expects a fiscal deficit of $5.5 billion this year. “It’s sad because Rio is a beautiful place,” says Serao.
To be fair, many Olympic games have been mired in their own controversies. The 2014 Sochi Olympics drained a whopping $50 billion, and most of that investment remains white elephants. The 2008 Beijing Olympics displaced a million people from their centuries-old hutongs. And soccer, albeit beautiful, is not perfect, either. FIFA officials are notoriously corrupt, accused of schemes and scams exceeding $200 million in bribes and kickbacks. Besides, some would argue that football could never boast the classical charm of naked athletes running around the colosseum — or match the lyricism of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics: “O Sport, pleasure of the Gods, essence of life, you appeared suddenly in the midst of the grey clearing which writhes with the drudgery of modern existence.”
Nevertheless, today’s Brazilian politicians and Russian athletes have strayed from the noble spirits of the ancient Greeks and de Coubertin, while France needs global solidarity more than ever after a terror-stricken year. So forget caipirinhas this summer and raise a toast of Bordeaux.