Ryan Lochte’s False Police Report: American Fear, Privileged Perception, & How it Affects Diplomatic Relations

By Angela White

With 116 medals for the U.S.A., 43 of them gold, the 2016 Summer Olympics has been nothing short of extraordinary. Simone Biles led the U.S. women’s gymnastics team with 4 gold medals.[1] Chen Aisen won two gold medals for China’s men’s diving team.[2] Katie Ledecky won 4 gold medals, 1 silver medal and set a world record in the women’s 800 freestyle in swimming.[3] In the midst of outstanding achievements and record-­‐breaking triumphs across a broad range of sports, there is one story that most people cannot stop talking about – U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte’s false report of a robbery.

On August 14, 2016, reports came in that Ryan Lochte (12-­‐time Olympic medalist, second in swimming only to Michael Phelps), along with three other U.S. male swimmers, were robbed at gunpoint at a gas station in Rio.[4] For some, the robbery came as nosurprise. Brazil’s reputation for crime is no secret.[5] In fact, the country’s purported reputation for chaos and lawlessness caused many to question whether Brazil was prepared, or even worthy, to host the 2016 Olympics.[6]

To the astonishment of many, the investigation discredited Lochte’s story.[7] According to Fernando Veloso, Chief of the Rio de Janeiro Police Investigation Division, “no robberies were committed against these athletes.”[8] Veloso then went on to say, “they were not victims of the crimes they claimed.”[9] Amid the resulting controversy, a Brazilian judge ordered the swimmers’ passports to be seized; so while Lochte’s three teammates were detained at an airport in Rio, he was already back in the U.S.[10]

Although Lochte and his teammates could face criminal charges for making a false police report, it is the U.S.’s embarrassment surrounding the controversy that raises eyebrows. Lochte stands to lose millions in endorsements and could possibly be suspended.[11] An issue of greater concern, however, is how Lochte’s actions have affected diplomatic relations.


The Olympics: A Diplomatic and Political Enterprise

The Olympics has always played an important role in international affairs. The first modern Olympic games were held in 1896.[12] The event attracted 280 participants from thirteen nations.[13] In 1920, the official symbol of the Olympics, five interlocking colored rings that represented Africa, Australia, Asia, and North and South America, was placed on the Olympic flag.[14] Four years later, the Olympic games grew to include 3,000 athletes from forty-­‐fournations.[15]

Since its inception, the Olympic games have enabled countries with tense diplomatic relations to compete. For example, the United States and the Soviet Union sent athletes to compete in the Olympic games during the Cold War.[16] However, the Olympics games have also been a forum for international conflict, often shedding light on controversial globaland national issues, or isolating some countries to express disapproval of the countries’ human rights or war activities. The Olympic games’ political significance grew in 1948 as participation symbolized political recognition and legitimacy.[17] Consequently, Germanyand Japan were not invited to the 1948 Olympics because of these countries’ involvements in WWII.[18] In 1964, the South African delegation was banned from the Olympic games in Tokyo.[19] In 1980, the U.S., along with sixty-­‐four other nations, boycottedtheOlympicgames that were held in Moscow.[20]


Lochte’s Effect on U.S.-­‐Brazil Relations

Although Lochte and his teammates are subject to the criminal code in Brazil, it cannot now be determined whether Lochte and his teammates will serve jail time for making the false police report and vandalizing the gas station.[21] More pressing, however, is that this controversy exposes notions about the U.S. and Brazil, and challenges assumptions

about the character of Olympic athletes and their conduct in a host country during the Olympics. Lochte’s story about he and his teammates being robbed at gunpoint reinforced Americans’ perceptions that Brazil is a violent place. As a well decorated Olympian,  Lochte’s allegation was given instant credibility. When an investigation then revealed that Lochte’s story was in fact contrived, it reinforced the idea of the privileged American.

Whether the U.S. can extradite Lochte to Brazil depends on the nature of the statement.[22] The U.S.’s extradition treaty with Brazil has a specific list of crimes for which one can be extradited; making a false police report is not on the list, but perjury is on the list.[23] If Lochte gave his false police report of the robbery under oath, he would have committed perjury, and an extradition request could be filed.[24] Due to the request’s requirements, it could take months before Lochte would actually be extradited, and given the nature of the crime, it is unlikely that Brazil would pursue this course of action.


Suggestions for Diplomatic Punishments

At minimum all four athletes should give a public apology and pay for any damage they did to the gas station, including a fine for urinating on the outside wall of the gas station.[25]  Also, if the U.S. does not extradite Lochte, he and his teammates should be fined for making the false police reports. Finally, because Lochte’s conduct did not represent the character of an Olympic athlete, he should be suspended for a period to be determined by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).



It is debatable whether this controversy would be publicized if Americans were not involved. Lochte and the USOC apologized to Brazil; however, the apologies were undermined by the “boys will be boys” immaturity excuse expressed by people who should know better.[26] At this point, the focus should be on preserving diplomatic relationsbetween the U.S. and Brazil, and just as importantly, reinforcing the important goal of diplomacy as it relates to the Olympics. The investigation and its outcome depend in large measure, on whether the U.S. government and Lochte want to cooperate – the benefit of privilege. The world is watching.

* * * * *

[1] Simone Biles Rio 2016, OLYMPIC GAMES RIO 2016, https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-­‐ instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-­‐8#q=simone%20biles%20medal%20count (last visited August 21, 2016.

[2] Chen Aisen, OLYMPIC GAMES RIO  2016,


=chrome&ie=UTF-­‐8 (last visited August 21, 2016).

[3] Nathan Fenno, Katie Ledecky Breaks World Record in 800 Freestyle to Win Fourth Gold, LOS ANGELES TIMES, (Aug. 21, 2016, 8:37 A.M.), http://www.latimes.com/sports/olympics/la-­‐sp-­‐oly-­‐rio-­‐2016-­‐katie-­‐ledecky-­‐ breaks-­‐world-­‐record-­‐in-­‐1471053290-­‐htmlstory.html.

[4] Joshua Partlow, Dom Phillips, and Cindy Boren, Ryan Lochte Among Four U.S. Swimmers Robbed at Gunpoint        in Rio de Janeiro, THE WASHINGTON POST, (August 14, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/ryan-­‐lochte-­‐among-­‐four-­‐us-­‐swimmers-­‐robbed-­‐at-­‐ gunpoint-­‐in-­‐rio-­‐de-­‐janeiro/2016/08/14/870b0a16-­‐6249-­‐11e6-­‐8b27-­‐bb8ba39497a2_story.html.

[5] Mary Papenfuss, Brazil’s Astonishing Murder Tally Matches Syrian War Death Toll, INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES, (May 23, 2015, 12:47 BST), http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/brazils-­‐astonishing-­‐murder-­‐tally-­‐matches-­‐ syrian-­‐war-­‐death-­‐toll-­‐1502621.

[6] Violent Deaths in Brazil Surge to Peak of 58,000 Amid Olympic Safety Fears, THE GUARDIAN, (Oct. 8, 2015, 7:20 P.M.) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/09/violent-­‐deaths-­‐in-­‐brazil-­‐surge-­‐to-­‐peak-­‐of-­‐ 58000-­‐amid-­‐olympic-­‐safety-­‐fears.

[7] Dave Sheinin, Dom Phillips, and Joshua Partlow, Police Discredit Ryan Lochte’s Robbery Story, Say Swimmers Owe Rio an Apology, THE WASHINGTON POST, (Aug. 19, 2016),

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/brazil-­‐stops-­‐two-­‐us-­‐olympic-­‐swimmers-­‐from-­‐leaving-­‐ country-­‐over-­‐robbery-­‐case/2016/08/18/5bfdee66-­‐6540-­‐11e6-­‐96c0-­‐37533479f3f5_story.html.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Ahiza Garcia, Ryan Lochte Endorsements Could be in Trouble, CNN MONEY, (Aug. 19, 2016, 9:39 AM ET), http://money.cnn.com/2016/08/18/news/ryan-­‐lochte-­‐endorsements/.

[12] The Olympic Games, HISTORY.COM, http://www.history.com/topics/olympic-­‐games, (last visited August 20, 2016).

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] See generally Allen Guttmann, The Cold War and the Olympics, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL Vol. 43, No. 4, Sport in World Politics (Autumn, 1988), p.  554-­‐568.

[17] Jamie Fuller, A Not-­‐So-­‐Brief History of Politics and the Olympics, THE WASHINGTON POST, (Feb. 5, 2014), https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-­‐fix/wp/2014/02/05/machiavelli-­‐meet-­‐the-­‐olympics.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Tony IIiakostas, #LochteGate: How Ryan Lochte and U.S. Swimmers May Be Subject to Brazilian Criminal Law, LAW NEWZ, (Aug. 19, 2016, 1:59 P.M.), http://lawnewz.com/sports/lochtegate-­‐how-­‐ryan-­‐lochte-­‐and-­‐3-­‐us-­‐ swimmers-­‐may-­‐be-­‐subject-­‐to-­‐brazilian-­‐criminal-­‐law/.

[22] Id.

[23] Extradition Treaty and Additional Protocol Between the United States of America and Brazil (available at http://www.oas.org/Juridico/mla/en/traites/en_traites-­‐ext-­‐usa-­‐bra.pdf).

[24] Id.

[25] Julia Jacobo and Emily Shapiro, USOC Apologizes for ‘Distracting Ordeal’ From U.S. Swimmers Who Claimed Robbery, ABC NEWS, (Aug. 18, 2016, 11:24 P.M. EST.), http://abcnews.go.com/International/brazilian-­‐police-­‐ recommend-­‐us-­‐swimmers-­‐ryan-­‐lochte-­‐james/story?id=41496292.

[26] 26 Alexandra Petri, Ryan Lochte and the Privilege Tree, THE WASHINGTON POST, (August 19, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2016/08/19/ryan-­‐lochte-­‐and-­‐the-­‐privilege-­‐ tree/?utm_term=.dc7b5d2d9b41