In recent days, the world has been transfixed by an event that’s held every four years, sucks up plenty of television time and costs the earth (and has many questioning that expense). I’m not talking about the US presidential election, but an event which features contestants that people actually like supporting — the Olympic Games.
The Rio Games will come to a close on Sunday, marking the passage of relative peace in a summer of violence. Congratulations are obviously more uplifting than condolences.
If you had gone by the American media busily blaming it on Rio, Brazil was due to host the worst Games of the modern era, with the litany of complaints ranging from algae to Zika. Perhaps part of the reason was that Rio had netted the Olympics over local favourite Chicago, which was meant to hand US President Barack Obama a podium finish to his tenure. Obama even made a 20-hour dash to Copenhagen in 2009 to back Chicago’s bid, one that didn’t even make it past the first round. As a result, he spent much of these Olympic doing the rounds at a golf course in Martha’s Vineyard.
Obama’s leaden touch was not limited to the Olympics. The situation in a vast swathe of territory to India’s west and north is evidence of how other international efforts have gone south during his tenure. Of course, losing out on hosting the Olympics isn’t quite as deadly as watching the Islamic State graduate from a “junior varsity” team, as Obama initially described it, to the big leagues. But other games continue to be played. The American security establishment, unable to get a handle on halting metastasising jihad, has found comfort in zoning in on those nasty Russians; the old enemy is at least conventional. It’s ironic that in 2012, when the Republican challenger Mitt Romney expressed his concerns over Moscow during a Presidential election debate, Obama quipped that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”
As the Olympic Games proceeded, it helped diffuse the focus from that other competition that’s been consuming airtime — the US Presidential race. Let’s be candid here, watching Michael Phelps gather more gold than you would see at a wedding at a farmhouse on Delhi’s outskirts, or Usain Bolt doing his trademark celebratory routine, or Dipa Karmakar defying gravity and a broken system, is a far more pleasant experience than a race with world record-level ratings for unpleasantness. The argument advanced by many, that Democrat and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be the best candidate in the field, is somewhat like praising the winner of an ice hockey tournament between Saarc nations.
Unless you are an Indian sports fan and the only source of solace for you, apart from the gutsy shows by a handful of female athletes, was revelling in sports minister Vijay Goel’s unmatched achievements in self-promotion and selfie-propagation. After all those near misses by the Indians (and a little joy), akin to the experience of driving in the capital, at least you could cheer for developments like the Fijian squad winning the Rugby Sevens competition (with Monday being declared “the golden Olympic medal public holiday” in that Pacific nation).
Many predicted a debacle in Brazil, but what we’ve witnessed has been a spectacle, an outcome most preferred. For a world wearied of extremism in its many forms during a seemingly endless summer of loss has had some respite: Medal tallies make for nicer graphics than body counts.
This has been a welcome pause from the other race between contenders showing off their skills at deleting emails or denying visas. That marathon will enter its decisive stretch in September and we will return to our regular scheduled programming of attack ads and gaffes galore. Meanwhile, we ought to enjoy the final hours of what has been a great showing of the human spirit before moving back to humongous spite – the world of meaner, shriller, hyper. The most powerful prize on earth awaits, and a silver will bring no sliver of consolation.
The views expressed are personal