I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Now that the Five-Ring Circus has pulled out of Rio de Janeiro and environs, we can take a final reading of the Media Squawk-O-Meter as the boys and girls of the Fourth Estate navigate their way home.
Squawking, you realize, is a large part of every Olympic Games. It is, in fact, the sworn duty of news scavengers to alert readers back home to their special brand of misery. It’s not that we care about their hardships. We don’t. And they know we don’t care. But they cannot resist the urge to whinge about their food, traffic delays, lodgings, creature comforts, toilet paper, air quality, insects, blah, blah, blah. Apparently, it’s part of an unwritten code: When assigned to cover the Olympics, one must find something about the locals or the locale to squawk about and insert said inconvenience into one’s copy, otherwise no one will believe you actually have gone hither. Or yon.
There exists at least one other clause in the unwritten code by which the sports scribe is governed: Mention the number of Olympics you have attended as early and as often as possible, in the likely event that it failed to register with the reader the first dozen times.
Games covered, of course, impresses exactly zero people. I mean, a tree with 1,500 rings? That’s impressive. A jock journo with 15 Five-Ring Circuses on his or her resume? That just tells me he or she can count without using all fingers and toes and has discovered more to bitch about than most.
The point is, sportswriter squawking is as germane to the Olympics as Usain Bolt’s lickety-split, Michael Phelps’s wing span, or a boxing judge with one eye on the fight and the other on his take. And, with 28,000 accredited media for the Rio Olympics, that’s one serious group gripe.
They all do it. It’s just that some are louder than others, that’s all. There are also those, like Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, who can pull it off with humor or wit or satire, rather than a sledge hammer. And, in fairness, I should also like to emphasize that it isn’t always about minor inconveniences. I rather think that were I riding a media bus en route to a sporting venue and bullets shattered the window beside me, that would qualify as more than a petty annoyance.
At any rate, the Media Squawk-O-Meter was operating at a dizzying rate in Rio. Here are some of the gripes…
One of the flowers of Canadian jock journalism (and a personal favorite), Cam Cole of Postmedia, struck first with a tweet about there being just “one ATM to service a population of several thousand in Main Press Centre. Good job, good effort.” He then followed with “worst organization of a Games in my 16, hands down.” This was a brilliant bit of bitching. It showed veteran savvy and moxie. Only a seasoned scribe could have trashed the organizers and established his career Five-Ring Circus count before the Games began. Pure genius.
Steve Politi of NJ.com was also quick off the starting blocks, with an essay about polluted Guanabara Bay. “When I put down the camera and finally look down at the water, I see the trash. It isn’t the piles of it you may have seen in photographs that have moved from here in recent weeks, but it is all around the boat. Plastic bags. Restaurant cups. Soda bottles. A sanitary napkin. The water is covered with a noticeable film, in all directions, making it look like a thick, green stew. But the biggest concern is what I cannot see. The bacteria. The viruses. The human excrement.” And you’re telling us what, Nick? That there’s no garbage in New Jersey?
Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star didn’t bitch so much about the peculiarities of Rio as she did a nervy media back home who, from their sofas, had the bad manners to critique the work of news scavengers in Brazil. At the same time, Ramblin’ Rosie dumped a load of hooey on ill-mannered scribes and/or talking heads on site: “A bewildered shout-down also to media mooks in Rio loudly rooting for their country’s athletes along press tribune row. One simple rule: No cheering in the pressbox.” Yo! Rosie! The Chinese, Japanese, Turks, Brits, South Africans, Dutch, Brazilians or whomever you’re bitching about don’t have to play by your rules. Perhaps cheering in the pressbox is acceptable behaviour where they pin their press badges.
News scavengers’ preoccupation with food is fascinating. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star lamented the absence of golden arches at the journos’ feeding trough. “One thing missing: McDonald’s in the media centre. It’s a staple, an old friend waiting to greet you at the end of a long day and the decision to pull out of Rio might have made sense from a business sense but it’s screwing up tons of media types who miss it dearly.” Smith also bemoaned hanky-panky with pricing at an eatery near his hotel: “The nice menu that was printed in English was quite helpful the first two nights but it was somewhat of a surprise to me when I got there last night to see the prices scratched out by marker and raised a couple of Reals or so for each item. Yeah, a 20R fish dinner became a 22R fish dinner, the 4R appetizer is 6R now and the folks who run it sure know how to make a buck. Still gonna go because it’s so handy but we’ll be looking for somewhere else now more often, a place where the owners aren’t quite as blatant in their gouging.” Geez, Doug, you’re on expenses. Live a little.
King of the complainers had to be Steve Simmons of Postmedia, though. If there was anything about Rio he enjoyed, other than the competition (excluding dressage which, apparently, should be axed), I missed it. Some of his gems: “Green water. Polluted ocean. Wonky buses. Athletes held at gunpoint. So many robberies. I don’t need a second week.” Let’s see…he never had to dive into the green water, he never had to take a dip in the ocean, nobody put a gun to his head, and he wasn’t robbed. Only disruption in transportation impacted on his work. Yet he still wanted to bail. Hmmm. Oh, yes, there was also the weather: “No matter where you’re at it’s either too hot or too cold. A lot of us looking for just right.” Then there were the lineups: “These are the lineup Olympics. Lineup for food. Lineup for drinks. Lineup to pay. Lineup to get in to venue. Lineup to leave venue. Lineup to go to washroom. Lineup for just about everything.” Even when there weren’t lineups, he whinged: “This isn’t complaining. This is just how it is. You pay for a cold drink at concessions. You don’t get a drink. You get a receipt. You then move down the line. Even if there is no line. The four people behind the counter, near the drinks, do nothing until you get to the end of the counter. Then one of them may ask you what you want, or ignore you. Depends on the moment, and this is without a lineup.” Some advice for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Stevo—stay home.
Smith of the Star wrote it best about media squawking re the numerous glitches during the Rio Olympics: “These weren’t the best Games I’ve been at—Barcelona and London and Sydney still top the list—but they weren’t the worst, either. That’s still Atlanta by a mile and it always will be. But enough of that, really; it’s tiring.” Amen to that, Doug. Amen.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.