RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The daily Olympic briefing was already well underway when the first candidate for question of the day came from an Australian journalist.
“Is the IOC concerned,” he asked, “that one of the enduring images from these games may well be one if its senior members opening the door naked to a police raid?”
A loaded question, sure. About the only positive thing the International Olympic Committee could take from Wednesday morning’s bust of Ireland’s Patrick Hickey at a beachfront hotel in Rio was that it was for ticket scalping and not for hosting an orgy with Brazilian hookers.
Hard to blame the reporter for trying, though. This isn’t exactly an Olympics where answers are easily forthcoming.
“He’s innocent until proven guilty,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams eventually offered.
Welcome to the 11 a.m. follies, where two spokesmen sit bravely in front of a pack of journalists ravenous for responses to the problems that seem to crop up in these games with startling regularity.
Like the Five O’Clock Follies that journalists mocked in Vietnam, it’s often a lesson in the theater of the absurd.
The only constant — aside from the daily appearances of Adams and Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada together at a podium — is that there’s always plenty of fodder to discuss.
These games are turning into a textbook case in crisis management.
One day it’s about windows on a media bus being shattered or a fire burning through the mountain bike course. The next it’s diving and water polo pools that have mysteriously turned green.
Every day, it seems, it’s about the thousands of empty seats that continue to plague these games.
And on Wednesday, the added bonus of an elite IOC official being filmed scurrying for the bathroom as police arrive to take him into custody for allegedly scalping some 800 Olympic tickets in a scheme that netted $3 million in profit.
“Less than a thousand tickets of the six million that are sold,” Adams said. “Let’s wait to see what the allegations involving Mr. Hickey really are.”
Waiting is often the only way to get straight answers out of Adams and Andrada, who seem to subscribe to the theory that the Olympics last only 17 days and if they wait long enough all the journalists will have left Rio, taking their pesky questions with them.
It took days to get much out of them about the diving and water polo pools turning a deep shade of green, which they finally attributed to hydrogen peroxide accidentally being pumped into the water.
Before that, Andrada offered up the money quote of the games when asked why the water wasn’t blue.
“Chemistry is not an exact science,” he said, which had to come as news to chemists everywhere.
Andrada looks beleaguered by having to explain each morning what is inexplicable about these Olympics. Hickey’s arrest may not have pleased him, but at least it took attention away from the issues he’s had to deal with every day on behalf of the organizers.
Chief among those issues this week were Brazilian fans, who haven’t been filling enough seats and often boo inappropriately when they do.
“Booing is not the proper way to cheer,” Andrada said.
The week before, he was explaining some of the logistical problems still facing Rio organizers, chief among them some issues with transporting IOC members promptly between their luxury beachfront hotels and different venues.
Part of the problem, Andrada said, was that some of the 50,000 volunteers weren’t feeling good about donating their time to IOC members making up to $900 a day in per diem.
“If we have a tough day,” he said, “next morning some of them don’t show up.”
Not showing up is also being blamed for the thousands of empty seats in Olympic arenas and stadiums. The official count offered Wednesday was 53,828 tickets sold for track and field the night before, though the stadium didn’t appear even half full.
Was that because the tickets were being scalped instead of being used? No, said Adams, promising to return the next day with some real numbers to back his claim up.
“Thank you all much,” Adams said. “Same time tomorrow.”
Take in the show while you can. Like the Rio Olympics, time is running out on the 11 a.m. follies.