VIEW FROM THE PRESSBOX: There’s a real risk of moaning about first-world problems while surrounded by third-world poverty, homelessness and hunger of Rio de Janeiro. But with football getting underway last night and the Games Opening Ceremony tomorrow, for sports journalists working in Brazil, the familiar concerns of unreliable bus timetables and questionable press room food are never far away
There was a less than smooth start to the 2016 Games for journalists covering the women’s football competition at the Olympic Stadium in Rio.
At what was the very first event of the Games, the poorly attended Group E match between Sweden and South Africa, reporters in the press tribune had no access to the television feed due to technical problems.
While TV feeds are perhaps regarded as a bit of an indulgence for reporters, they are a useful tool when putting together a finer analysis of the match – particularly when the press seats are high in the stands of a 60,000-seat stadium.
Those journalists who fancied a quick snack at half-time were disappointed too, as no kiosks in the stadium had a working credit card machine. This would not have been so frustrating had there not been so many advertisements around the city from a certain Olympic sponsor – and the only card accepted in Games venues – claiming how “easy” it would be for transactions at events.
One reporter from Sweden was overheard saying, “What am I to do? I am here all day, I have no cash. I have to eat!”
Perhaps the most irksome challenge of the day came at the end of the first match, when it came to venturing back down to the Media Centre. What should have been a straightforward journey was made difficult by lifts that didn’t work and a distinct lack of clear signage. Several journalists missed players in the Mixed Zone and the start of the South Africa press conference because of misdirection or being unable to find an alternative to the lifts.
Every big event has its teething problems but it’s hard to grasp why so many issues cropped up at a venue that has hosted multi-sport competitions before, at the 2007 Pan American Games.
The real test for the Olympic Stadium will come when hundreds more reporters arrive for the start of the athletics…
ONE MEMBER of the ONS team in Rio is John Wragg, who has been in Brazil for almost a week and has taken to posting intriguing insights to the life of Games reporter on Facebook.
Today, the former Express man wrote: “Gone midnight and just got back into the apartment at the Media Village. Started at 8am, so been a long day. Been a good one though. The staff at the Maracanazhino could not be better and the athletes (volleyballers?) are excellent too.
“That is except for the miserable Korean women’s coach who kept waving his arms about, moaning about something, and looked like he’d eaten a nest of wasps. The Russian coach, predictably, said ‘niet’ to an interview request- but the rest, from Chinese to Brazilian, were wonderful. Our footballers could have done watching how a Mixed Zone post-training is conducted with charm, good grace and a smile as Brazil’s superstar women chatted away to a dozen TV cameras, radio broadcasters and written journalists and had a willingness to do so. Joe Hart take note. Time for kip now, up at 6.30am to do it all again…”
SUCH UP-BEAT accounts of the day’s toil, though, have been matched by other gripes from Wraggie, and food was the cause of his concern: “Bad news is that they’ve done away with food at the the Maracanazinho, the volleyball venue. Instead of a pretty nice three courses, we get a brown bag with nuts, cake and a biscuit in it and a sandwich and coke or water. Disgraceful. How’s a man to comment properly on volleyball with food like that?”
THOSE OBSERVATIONS HAVE been confirmed by SJA committee member Vikki Orvice, covering the Olympics for The Sun. After spending a couple of days with Team GB at their training camp in Belo Horizonte, Orvice has homed in to Rio for the last couple of days before the Games proper get underway. And she, too, has encountered problems with food, transport and the official cash machines.
“Apparently most of venues have no food. Main Press Centre shocking too. Plus ATM had no money this afternoon. One ATM. One food venue and massive queues, so ate at hotel round corner tonight.”
The Brazilian government has spent billions on infrastructure to support the Games venues. Trouble is, somewhat like Athens in 2004, somweher along the line they ran out of money. So the special Olympic Metro line ends eight miles – yes, eight – away from the Olympic Park. But using the Metro and a transit bus provides a better service for journalists travelling between their hotels and venues than the official media buses.
Neil Wilson, the former athletics correspondent at the Mail and the Independent, is in Rio working for an Irish paper and an American website. Which means that he has covered every Summer Olympics since 1972 and that Rio is his 22nd Olympics, Summer or Winter. So this man for all seasons should know a thing or two about getting around an Olympic city.
In the past, the answer would often be “Taxi!”, but in 2016, the Great Wilsoni is working as a freelance, without the cushion of being able to claim expenses for saving himself a couple of hours of every busy day.
Yesterday, Wilson was at the stunning Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the rowing and sprint canoe venue, which with Christ the Redeemer looking down from the Corcovado Mountain, is surely one of the most telegenic Olympic sports sites since Barcelona’s diving pool in 1992.
“Rowing lake is beautiful,” Wilson wrote overnight. “Wish I was only covering the oars. And a lot easier to get to when you know the way. Took 1½ hours to get a bus, but then a lovely volunteer commandeered a bus off another route for me. Presumably those on the other route still waiting.
“I remember how the great Sun hack Colin Hart used to ask ‘what’s a bus?’ as he hailed another cab. As a freelance, you are dependent on the buses. Free and fast when they show.”
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