The last couple times the Olympics have rolled around, the same New York Times article keeps showing up in my social media feed over and over. The athletes’ rooms in the Olympic village are uninhabitable, with problems ranging from blocked toilets, leaking roofs, exposed wiring, and general uncleanliness. The message: Rio (and Sochi before it) is woefully underprepared to have the eyes of the world on it.
And Rio’s Olympics have been beleaguered by problems, from Zika to Russian doping, from President Dilma Rousseff suspended pending impeachment to threats of police violence and/or terrorism. And to top it off, raw sewage has been pouring into the water, causing potential health crises for athletes participating in open water events. And yet, like a train barreling towards a track that has yet to be complete, the Olympics are here, ready or not.
But before we judge too harshly, let’s take a moment to consider what the world would say about North Carolina if the Olympics were to be held here tomorrow. I can think of a few things that might be cause for some fairly strong criticism.
- Water Quality: Just as Rio is drawing fire for the levels of contamination in its water, visitors to North Carolina beaches have recently been warned not to swim in the water due to the levels of bacteria exceeding EPA standards for recreational swimming. Moreover, the U.S. National Whitewater Center had to close when a girl died from a brain infection caused by a “brain eating amoeba,” or naegleria fowleri.
- Air Quality: With air quality alerts in the forecast for most of the summer, we all know what it means for those with respiratory issues. However, for the first time in years, North Carolina is meeting the federal standards for air quality. And this means we can showcase our views of the Blue Ridge Mountains with pride, as they are the best they’ve been in decades.
- HB 2: With the hasty passing of this law, North Carolina has already become a national punch line, drawing criticism from everyone from the President to the bevy of celebrities who have refused to perform in the state in protest of the law. The law is an embarrassment to the state, and it fosters animosity instead of unity. Moreover, the state is taking huge financial losses as a result. Olympic preparedness isn’t even a realistic question when we consider that we just lost the NBA All-Star Game.
- Discriminatory disenfranchisement: North Carolina’s voter ID law were recently declared illegal. The reason? The law targets “African Americans with almost surgical precision” according to the ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Olympic games celebrate diversity and the coming together of global cultures. North Carolina politicians saw fit to try to take away the voting rights of its own citizens in order to shore up their own power. Not quite the message we want to send to a global audience.
So where would we stand? It’s hard to say. I think that if we can’t even get the NBA All-Star game to come to Charlotte, as it had already said it would, it’s unlikely that North Carolina is ready for its moment on the global stage. But, I don’t think we should rule it out for the future. People like you and me choose to live here and work to make it a better place, to fight for justice and against intolerance. And I have to hold out hope that one day, we will get to where we are trying to go.