Amid scandal and sludge, try to remember the athletes in Rio Olympics

It took 80 minutes to tell what many already knew, but was done so in an exceptional manner of meticulous research and astounding candor. I suppose that’s the best way to depict the unlawful and selfish and dishonorable ways of the International Olympic Committee, on how to accurately paint such a corrupt and mercenary governing body.

With the rawest and most alarming sense of storytelling.

For the first time in its two-decade plus history, the HBO series “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” recently devoted an entire broadcast to one topic: Investigating the IOC. It included months of interviews, a detailed examination of how the organization whose stated purpose is to promote peace and harmony through sport long ago succumbed to more unscrupulous ways.

Which is to suck every last penny out of those host cities that spend tens of billions of dollars to stage the games, and if it means people building the facilities for specific events die because of unsafe working conditions or thousands are evicted from their homes for the purpose of such structures or there is little regard for basic human rights and sanitary conditions, well, just make sure those revenue streams remain fat and steady.

It was as good a report as you will find in any type of journalism, sports or otherwise.

So here’s the challenge: When the Rio Olympics officially begin Friday with the opening ceremony from Maracana Stadium, don’t watch with a suspicious and acrimonious glare because of the crooks who oversee the games. Watch with a positive and impressed eye for those athletes and their immense sacrifices to reach such a global stage.

I know. It’s not easy.

I covered the Olympics in Beijing (2008) and London (2012) for the Review-Journal, but there is an 18-year-old at home who departs for college on the East Coast shortly. Moving him into a dorm and having to drag his mother from the premises kicking and screaming and bawling her eyes out before security is called seems a lot more fun than potentially contracting the Zika virus or waking up to the noise of a toilet exploding all over the floor of a room the size of a closet.

No joke. It happened to a colleague from California this week on his first night in Rio.

He seems really excited about the next few weeks.

Pope Francis spoke about the Rio Games as a vehicle that should inspire athletes and spectators to pursue solidarity, that the world is thirsty for things such as tolerance and reconciliation.

Sport tends to play a heavy hand in such things.

It’s true that scandal, doping and otherwise, has found the Olympics as much as any major sports league or competition. Just this week, an Indianapolis Star investigation reported top executives from USA Gymnastics failed to alert authorities to many allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by coaches. Really awful stuff.

But genuine stories of clean athletes who have spent years training and forfeiting many of the social activities and ability to earn the sorts of living others enjoy for the purpose of chasing Olympic glory still exist.

They’re in Rio. Human interest tales of intense labor and creativity and desire to win gold.

I’m not talking about NBA millionaires who arrived for the games and were immediately taken to a cruise ship, the Silver Cloud, their home for the duration of the Olympics. I’m guessing Mike Krzyzewski’s team won’t see the worst of Rio.

I’m talking about the archer, the BMX rider, the rower, the long jumper, on and on. There are those who pay steep prices in a clean manner defined by a single-minded focus for years and even decades. Cheer for them. Be inspired by them.

Eight years ago, Beijing was about the world witnessing how a global power defined by communist rule would hold up under the intense scrutiny of a universal stare. It was about spending billions of dollars on impeccable preparation and pristine facilities to keep the focus on sport and not its soiled image in regard to human rights.

Four years later, London was about throwing the biggest party it could on a red-tag sales price, a moment to calm social tension. It revitalized a large portion of the city battered by what was a second recession since a financial crisis had seen the United Kingdom borrow more in seven years than at any time in its history.

Now, we have Rio and its polluted waters and threat of illness and unsafe streets and its poorest souls banished to mountain favelas. Those aspects are all mixed among some of the most beautiful and majestic scenery on earth that NBC will undoubtedly show each night. Challenge yourself to see the good in it, in the athletes and their stories.

The IOC, meanwhile, continues to rake in cash. It is expecting total revenue to reach $5.6 billion for the four-year period ending in 2016 and reports reserves of $874 million, money set aside to keep the governing body running should the games not be held in a given year.

And you thought those Russian weightlifters were dirty …

Ed Graney can be reached at or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney.

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