What if you held an Olympics and nobody came to play? The roster of top-notch athletes who are choosing NOT to compete at Rio, Brazil this summer is growing. Golfers Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen have all made very public announcements that they will not take part in the return of their sport to the Olympics for the first time since the 1920's. LeBron James and Stephan Curry have announced they will not be part of Team USA Basketball--and a number of other big names are considering the same decision.
Some of those deciding not to go to Brazil cite concerns over the Zika virus. You have to consider is a gold medal worth infecting your wife or causing severe birth defects in children you may or may not have even considered having yet? And for female athletes themselves, that same question hits even closer to home--even for those not yet married or planning families.
Those high profile athletes are lucky, though. Rory, LeBron and Steph have multiple opportunities to win prestigious championships--and cash in big time on their titles. But for those in the "we only care about them every four years in the Olympics" sports, that decision is not so easy. Yes, runners and gymnasts and team handball players and ping pongers have World Championships pretty much every year--but can you name the defending champions in any of them? You don't get a place on a Wheaties box by winning a weekend tournament in Stuttgart that ESPN 2 shows on tape delay three months later.
So equestrian athletes have to take the risk of mosquito bites in their outdoor sport. Sailors have to compete in a bay filled with raw sewage from the host city that made many of them sick when they came for an Olympic test event last year. And even fans have to think about whether the cost, difficulty of travel and the overall hassle of attending such a huge event is worth risk to themselves as well.
Of course, this is what happens when you decided to have the Olympics in what is still basically a third world country. I doubt the sprawling slums of Rio will get much air time on NBC. Little has been made of the city declaring a financial emergency, as the burden of building the venues and infrastructure necessary to host the games has overwhelmed them. And let's not forget the country took a big hit from hosting the World Cup a couple of years ago and getting left with the financial bag there as well.
This would have been the Olympics that Chicago could have hosted had their bid been accepted. You may recall that President Obama addressed the International Olympic Committee himself to tout his hometown (as did Oprah, Hillary Clinton and Morgan Freeman--who famously lost his place in his speech). The IOC immediately showed how much respect they had for the "Most Popular American President Ever" by eliminating Chicago in the first round of voting. Now that Rio is looking like a brewing disaster, maybe the President should give one of those "I told you so" speeches that he is so good at to the IOC and remind them that "elections have consequences".