There's plenty of religion-news gold buried in the Olympics story -- just dig for it

I'm a big track and field fan so I'm looking forward to the Rio Olympics, which open Friday. And, yes, I know. The Games are rife with corruption -- so much so that I won't argue if you argue that watching the Games on TV makes me an enabler.


Track and field (or athletics, as the sport is called in most of the world) has major doping problems.

The Olympic organizing movement is a money-grubbing, self-serving organization.

Brazil and the city of Rio de Janeiro have made a mess of their preparations for the Games Click here for details and then click here.

Still, the Games are obviously way too big a deal for international journalists to give them limited coverage. Rather, they'll go all out covering every angle of the quadrennial circus.

Will that include religion angles? Religion journalists: What's here for us?

Actually, plenty, though being heard above the who-won-what hoopla won't be easy by any means.

Some historical context. Did you know the Olympics as held in ancient Greece were steeped in overt religious devotion?

Now read this overview piece from the Huffington Post on religion at the Rio Olympics. It begins as follows:

The Olympic Games bring people together across nations, faiths and backgrounds. Whether it was ever intended to be or not, the festive competition may just be the largest interfaith gathering in the world.
More than 10,000 athletes from over 200 countries will compete in the Rio 2016 Olympics, which is expected to draw millions of visitors from around the world. During its busiest periods, the Rio 2016 committee expects over 17,000 athletes and officials will be living in the Olympic village.
With such a turnout, the Olympic committee is preparing for a high demand on spiritual resources. To satisfy that need, Olympic and Paralympic Village feature a multi-faith center with chaplains and prayer spaces representing Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.
“Our job is to provide athletes with a place where they can find comfort and spiritual peace, whatever their religion,” Father Leandro Lenin Tavares, a Rio de Janeiro priest coordinating the center, said in a statement. “We are a symbol of peace, brotherhood and the unity of peoples.”

The piece goes on to say that in addition to paying attention to members of the big five international religions noted above, the center will also seek to meet the needs of followers of such Afro-Brazilian faiths as Candomblé, Umbanda and other such syncretic movements that combine aspects of African tribal, Christian, and spiritualist faith. (I've written here before about Brazilians deep and growing affinity for such faiths.)

This is all well and good. But I wonder how many news outlets will dispatch reporters to hang around the interfaith center to record, say, how athletes of varying faiths interact there, as opposed to on the field of competition?

Or to speak with athletes there who are religious enough to seek divine assistance before they compete. Or even to note how much usage the center receives (I can imagine that some very religiously traditional competitors might shy away from anything designated "interfaith.")

And you know that religious evangelists (or in some case, proselytizers) of various stripes will be out in force in areas where fans will congregate. Will they get any coverage?

What about the more than just a few athletes who are bound to proclaim that their faith helped them excel. Or sustained during the disappointment that followed failure on the field? How much depth will journalists provide to such comments?

Will religion ghosts be the norm, as they are so often?

This may be too far afield for some, but you're probably aware of Brazil's national political crisis. However, are you also aware of the role that religion, evangelical Christianity in particular, has played in this crisis?

How hard would it be to produce a sidebar on this to go with your news employer's package on all things Brazil and Olympic that will see the light of day over the next couple of weeks?

I doubt the Rio Olympics will produce a religion story line as dramatic as the one poignantly depicted in the marvelous 1981 film "Chariots of Fire," one of the very best dramatic films about the Games ever made, in my estimation.

Not because a story that good will absolutely be absent this time around.

But because few sports or other journalists covering the Games this time will have the time or inclination to dig as deeply as required into the many human dramas that, together, comprise the real Olympics.

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