Just How Dirty Is the Olympics?
A new movie shows the grief of families forced to uproot their homes in the face of government-issued rubber bullets to make room for the Games in Rio.
As the world’s great sporting institutions became mired in growing evidence of corruption, cheating, and scandal, one man set out on an unprecedented tour of the sporting world.
From Kathmandu to Boston—from Qatar to Rio, what he found was a catalogue of misery and greed that left him in mourning for the sports he once loved.
“It doesn’t matter who is the victim, it’s just—how can I make a lot of money? How can politicians expand their power?” said Benjamin Best. “It’s winning at all costs.”
Best, a documentary filmmaker, spent two years investigating soccer, basketball, boxing, and the two “mega events”—the Olympic Games and the World Cup.
Of course, he was expecting to discover problems, but the truth was so much worse than he had imagined.
“The biggest shock was that you have those mega sporting events and there is no price too high to pay for it,” he told The Daily Beast. “You have people dying.”
The most heart-breaking scene of Best’s new movie, Dirty Games, takes place on the banks of a river in Triyuga in the Udayapur district of Nepal. A woman on her knees screams to the heavens. She has sunk to the ground after being confronted by the cold, dead face of her husband.
A thin, wooden coffin with an identification number scrawled on the side had been pried open to reveal the body of Bahadur Danuwar, the father of their 18-month-old baby girl. Not only had Danuwar, 28, left his wife, Bhuban, to raise the child alone—he was also the sole provider for them, his father, and his cousin. His salary was being sent back from Qatar where Danuwar was part of the vast migrant army rebuilding the country ahead of the World Cup in 2022.
Qatar has rejected claims that thousands of migrant workers will die in the build up to the soccer tournament, but the frozen face of Danuwar proves that traveling to work on construction projects in the oil-rich nation can be deadly.
His wife received no explanation for being made a widow—the family was simply given a piece of paper, written in English, that stated Danuwar had died in his sleep.
One migrant worker who made it back to Nepal described the working conditions.
“During the day up to two or three workers would die in the city center and Sheraton Hotel area, the ambulance came without any sirens and took them away,” said Chandra Raj Kapali. “Nobody should notice it. They treated us like dogs. They said ‘dog come here,’ and we had to obey.”
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the authorities are preparing to host the Olympics in August, there are also claims that people’s health—or even their lives—come second to the successful delivery of a sporting event.
“If you look at the human rights violations in Qatar and Rio, I was amazed it feels like human life or human interests are not really taken seriously by organizers, by federations, by politicians,” said Best.
He visited the Vila Autódromo, a favela on the edge of the Olympic Park, where around 600 families had lived for generations. There were bloody scenes as rubber bullets and batons were used to force the final residents out of their homes to make way for the Olympics.
“Some of the clean-ups might be positive but you also had some killings during the clean-ups. There was a lot of police brutality. Some of these evictions are not good,” said Best.
The human rights group Amnesty International says 2,500 Brazilians have been killed by police in Rio since the city was named as Olympic host city in 2009. Some those came as part of the “pacification” program which has been used to try and establish a system of law and order in the city’s abundant shanty towns. That program was accelerated ahead of the Olympics and the Brazil World Cup.
At least 11 people were also killed in the Olympic contruction projects in Rio, according to official figures released by Brazilian authorities.
Away from these worldwide mega events, which are also rife with corruption, Best found that professional sport at almost every level was poisoned.
“With match fixing, with doping, with corrupt officials, with politicians influencing sports, it’s really moving away from the fans. It’s just a money-making circus and a lot of people try to take advantage of it,” said Best.
In Dirty Games, which is yet to secure an American distribution deal, he interviewed the notorious boxing promoter Charles Farrell, who can’t even remember how many boxing matches he fixed.
“You fix fights to get betting money, you fix fights to win, you fix fights to lose,” Farrell says. “Winning costs money. Losing makes money.”
One of the fights he said he was involved in was Mike Tyson’s comeback after he was imprisoned for rape. He claims he was told in advance that the fight wouldn’t last 90 seconds. On 89 seconds—it was over.
“That envelope put my son through college,” Farrell said.
Best was stunned—not that corruption was common in boxing, but by Farrell’s claim that every gym in America played by the same crooked rules.
“The way Farrell was talking openly about illegal activity—not only with the Russian mob, but the U.S. mob, and within boxing itself, it’s incredible.”
When Best travels to Turkey, he finds a different kind of corruption. The country’s establishment soccer team, Fenerbache, supported by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was found guilty in a massive match-fixing scandal in 2011.
European authorities banned the team from international competition but inside Turkey, the authorities failed to even take away their league championship for that year. The club’s president was mysteriously pardoned and let off his jail sentence after a sudden change in the law.
“There’s no fairness in sports,” sighs Best. “There’s too much money involved. You have too many people like politicians. Sporting officials, athletes, members of organized crime gangs, that want to use sport for their own advantage. Sometimes the fan doesn’t want to know, they just enjoy the circus, but sometimes I think they have to take a stand.”