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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Some thoughts on the Olympic scandal.

The 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have been a tremendous success for the United States, at least as far as athletics go.  The international competion that takes place every four years has a way of bringing together people of disparate backgrounds.  I stood amongst a group of people watching the semi-final men's Volleyball match between Italy and the US (eventually won by Italy, 3 sets to 2) at a McDonald's this morning, and noticed a businessman, a teacher, and a construction worker, all focused together, trying to will the US team to victory.  The fervor with which the people of Rio support the Brazilian athletes is an example of how people can come together and forget the difficulties of life for a while, long enough the share pride in their nation.  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union/Commenwealth of Independent States, the US has had little competion, when it comes to overall medal count.  No doubt this encourages some folks to root against the US athletes, and the events of the last week indicate that this negativity can exist off the courts as well.

Last weekend, decorated US swimmer Ryan Lochte's mother publicly announced that her son, along with three orher US swimmers, had been robbed after a night partying.  It didn't take long for the story to grow legs.  For all practical purposes, Brazil is a third-world country, with out-of-control unemployment, crime, poverty, and a huge separation in living standards between a small wealthy elite and the rest of the population.  Recently, the people of Brazil, fed-up with endemic political corruption, took to the streets.  The president has been impeached, and investigations into corruption seem to involve every political power.  This was the environment in which Brazil has pulled off a successful Olympic games.  Unfortunately, a segment of the population objected to the money being spent to build velodromes and other obsolete structures, when the majority of people, especially those living in the Favelas (look it up), live without electricity and running water.  Some Olympic athletes expressed concern about safety in Rio de Jameiro, so there wasn't much surprise when an Olympic athlete claimed that he and other athletes had been robbed after a night at a disco.

Now it appears that the story Lochte told to his mother and later shared with NBC news personality Matt Lauer, was full of false details (lies?).  Brazilian authorities, disturbed by the fact that Lochte and his companions did not report the incident, claimed other inconsistencies.  Lochte had already left Brazil, but authorities refused to allow the remaining three swimmers depart until the event had been thoroughly investigated.  Almost from the beginning, rhe international media was fed by leaks provided by various Brazilian authorities in the Police Department and the Department of Justice.  Initially, the Brazilian authorities claimed that although security personnel were on the scene, no weapons were pulled.  There is no doubt that a concerted effort was made to try and convict Lochte and his companions, before the other three had even spoken on the subject.  After Conger and Benz, two of Lochte's companions that night, were interviewed, they were greeted outside Police Headquarters by a crowd that was prepared for a lynching.  Their was a palpable anger being expressed by the people of Brazil, encouraged by the Brazilian press and law enforcement authorities.  Did anyone care that Conger and Benz were released without charges?

Lochte and the remaining individual in this mess, James Feigan, were threatened with being indicted. The Brazilian authorities claimed that the Americans lied when thry claimed that they were robbed.  But wait...since they didn't report the "robbery", what's the crime?  Simply put, the crime was having the nerve to falsely "report" a crime, in a country when crime is a huge problem.  The concern being that four American athletes reporting a crime might make people come to the conclusion that Brazil is a dangerous place.  Well, it IS a dangerous place.  So what actually happened?  Lochte claimed that  he and his friends took a cab home after a night out, and stopped temporarily to relieve themselves.  On returning to the cab, they were confronted by persons dressed as police, who proceeded to rob the four young men.  Lochte claimed that his wallet was taken and that a pistol was pointed directly at his head.  After the robbery, the four walked back to the Olympic compound, choosing not to report the incident so as to avoid "getting in trouble".

What actually occurred?  So far, the story that I can piece together is that the four young men were walking home from the disco, and stopped to use a restroom.  In attempting to open the door, they broke the lock.  What they thought was a restroom was actually something else, so they maneuvered behind some bushes and releived themselves.  At this point, 2 security guards arrived, and in a discussion involving money (and included a local who attempted  to translate), Lochte got angry and spoke back to the security guards.  A weapon was pulled, and all four Americans were ordered to sit on the ground.  The issue was eventually resolved with an exchange of money.

No doubt the four young men were quite intoxicated.  Is it possible that they mistakenly thought that the security guards were police officers, and the exchange of money (which has been described by Brazilian authorities as payment for the broken lock) was a robbery?  Lochte has apologized to a point, and we have yet to hear from the other three.  Feigan was allowed to avoid indictment by taking advantage of a Brazilian law which allows persons to make a donation to a charity as opposed to facing prosecution.  Of course, this clause can only be used if the alleged crime is minor.

Like most Americans, I'm very anxious to hear from the other three men.  The Brazilian press will be broken-hearted to see this scandal fade away.  For a week or so, the regular crime and controversy that dominate the headlines was replaced by four entitled, spoiled young Americans disrespecting the great nation of Brazil.  International audiences were able to look away from green swimming pools and kayakers running into sofas, and enjoy the spectacle of humiliated Americans.  It seems like humiliating Americans has been everyone's hobby for the past 8 years.  I long for the day when nations thought twice before insulting Americans and the United States.  I'm hoping that change is on the way.

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