August 10, 2016

The Olympic Games are a first-level media spectacle as well as a sporting event, with more than 30,000 journalists descending on Rio for the occasion.

The Olympics also attract their fair share of hyperbole and dubious claims, giving fact-checkers around the world their own chance to have a field day.

No real science behind cupping

The swimming champion Michael Phelps has elicited media attention not just for winning three gold medals (at the time of writing), but also for the very evident circular bruises on his body.

These are the consequence of a suctioning technique, called “cupping,” that uses hot jars. Allegedly a pain reliever, this approach has scant scientific evidence backing it up. And yet several news stories gave it the benefit of the doubt, as HealthNewsReview’s critical overview shows.

Thanks to Olympics, ‘cupping’ gets its 15 minutes of fame–again

Perhaps the best takedown came from The Guardian, however:

Eating jam out of those jars would probably have a more significant physical impact, though it might not be the most nutritionally savvy strategy.

The German volleyball player was not pixelated out of that iconic picture

This iconic picture of the beach volleyball match between Germany and Egypt went viral. To a lesser extent, so did a tweet by a parody account of an Iranian news agency purporting to show the German player entirely covered up.

The impact of the Games is mixed

The most controversial and important claims about the Olympics, however, concern their impact. Proponents of a city’s Olympic bid tend to play up the economic and infrastructural benefits of hosting the Games, even as the record is at best mixed.

Brazilian fact-checkers Aos Fatos looked at available research on impact in host cities in terms of the economy, social issues and inward investment flows. Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist has written a book about the “economic gamble” of hosting such large sporting events.

Full Fact, a fact-checking site based in the previous host city of London, also looked at the legacy of the Games. It found that aspirations to increase participation in sports didn’t pan out in England even though there was an increase in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Previously, Full Fact had fact-checked and found lacking a claim by former Prime Minister David Cameron that the Olympics delivered almost £10 billion in economic benefits.

Usain Bolt can outrun the Zika-carrying mosquito (in a sprint)

Several athletes have expressed health concerns about traveling to Rio, a hotspot for the Zika virus.

Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter, was not among them. In an interview in May he claimed he could outrun the mosquitoes carrying the virus. While noting that “this should be obvious: We are not saying that running is a Zika prevention method,” PolitiFact compared human and mosquito speeds nonetheless.

Share The Facts
Usain Bolt
Olympic champion sprinter

Zika mosquitoes “can’t catch me.”


And if you want some fact-checked Olympic tidbits to use with your friends…

Check out Brazilian fact-checking agency Lupa’s overview of Olympic curiosities. Is it true that the Olympic medals are made out of recycled material? Have women always participated in the Games? Which city played host most often? Find out.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Alexios Mantzarlis joined Poynter to lead the International Fact-Checking Network in September of 2015. In this capacity he writes about and advocates for fact-checking. He…
Alexios Mantzarlis

More News

Back to News