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Olympics battling with relevance

By Nick Crawford

As the Rio Olympics draw to a close, two weeks of relatively seamless competition will give way to one of the greatest periods of uncertainty in the competition’s history.

Rightly or wrongly these Olympics will be remembered more for what happened away from the arena than what happened in it. There were drug suspicions and inconsistencies, an unprepared and financially incapable host, and an increasing deviation from the Olympic ethos that raise legitimate concerns regarding the viability of the event.

It is testament to the quality of the sport on display, and the reluctance of the media to be too critical while the events are on, that these issues having taken somewhat of a back seat. But it is fair to expect the post-mortem of Rio to be less positive.

The exclusion of the Russian track and field team dominated the build-up to the Olympics and it seems that confidence in athletes and doping officials is at an all-time low.

Much in the same way Lance Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing drugs tarnished the Tour de France, the Olympic movement is one high profile positive drug test away from losing what little faith is left in the Olympic ideals.

While the idea of amateur athletes has been mostly left behind, the Olympics need to retain the integrity of its competitions or face becoming irrelevant.

However, there may be a more pressing issue. Finding a city willing to take on the financial burden of the Olympics will become difficult given the instability shown by Brazil and previous host Greece, in particular.

The obvious solution, of course, would be to limit the selection criteria to affluent, developed countries but this would seem to go against the Olympic ethos of broadening sports horizons and would be a poor legacy for the first Olympics held in South America.

At some point, however, the line has to be drawn. No recent summer Olympics has ever made a profit or significantly boosted tourism past the event, and it may be timing to rethink the world’s greatest white elephant or risk it fading into insignificance.

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