RIO DE JANEIRO -- If apologizing were a medal sport, Rio Olympics spokesman Mario Andrada would be vying for the gold.
Every day, he arrives here for a daily press briefing and faces a firing squad of reporters. Every day, he is grilled about problems that have included stray bullets landing in the equestrian center, water turning green in the pool used for diving and water polo and acts of violence. Every day he has practiced the art of remorse.
During the first eight days of the Summer Olympics alone, Andrada apologized four times, invoked the words “we regret’’ twice and uttered “we failed’’ once and “I failed’’ once.
“I've attended 17 Olympics and I've never heard so many apologies,’’ David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, told USA TODAY Sports. “He strikes me as a fusion of Baghdad Bob (the former Iraqi Information Minister) and the press spokesmen for George W. Bush. Except they never apologized.’’
But on Thursday, asked if he might deserve an apology from Ryan Lochte and U.S. swimmers victimized in an alleged armed robbery Sunday morning now that police are focusing their investigation on the Americans, Andrada rejected the suggestion – this despite his apology to the athletes earlier this week for what they went through.
“I do not regret having apologized,” Andrada said with a smile and casual wave of his hand. “I do not expect any apologies from him or other athletes are needed. They were trying to have fun, they came here and represented their country, trained for years, competed under gigantic pressure.
“I understand this issue is under investigation. Let’s give these kids a break. They made a mistake. It’s part of life. Life goes on."
When asked again, Andrada stood firm: "I think the fact that the case turned around, people take their conclusions. People who believed the Rio image has been affected, or people who saw us on the bad side when the issue was first reported, now see we were on the right side. So why would we need to request an apology? Why should we need to keep this discussion going on because the facts are speaking for themselves. No hard feelings at all.“
There is no question Andrada is different.
With his salt-and-pepper hair, stocky frame and trusty, yellow Olympic jacket, he projects stoicism from his seat on the raised platform. But when he climbs down, he reveals warmth.
With a grin, Andrada said he struggles to remember his age (56, he thinks), can’t remember his cell phone number and has forgotten the birth dates of his 20-year-old and 17-year-old sons.
“I think because of the age my hard disk is full,’’ he said. “It’s embarrassing but true.’’
How Andrada views his own deficits reflects how he views the problems of these Olympics — embarrassing but true. Acknowledging that to the press is a key step before addressing a solution, according to Andrada.
“There needs to be trust in the dialogue,’’ he said. “So if I know I made a mistake, or we as a company made a mistake, we have
to apologize. And tell how we’re going to fix it.’’
Time was, Andrada asked the tough questions. He graduated from college with a degree in economics, but four years later took a job covering Formula One racing for a newspaper in Rio.
His journalism career included stints with the Brazilian newspaper Journal de Brazil and Reuters news before he was hired as Nike’s communications director for Latin America. Then, two years ago, he accepted an offer to serve as executive director of communications for the Olympic Games.
“My job is to be a diplomat,” Andrada said, adding that he failed the diplomatic academy entrance exam when he was in college. “I got the same grade in English, Portuguese and French. Which was excellent news for English and French, but bad news for Portuguese.’’
He also speaks Italian and Spanish and said the Rio Games organizers liked the fact he can speak five languages. And, yes, Andrada knows how to apologize in all five.