Brazil, a country known for colourful, vibrant carnivals and an insatiable hunger to party, is set to host what could well be its biggest celebration.
Come August 5, the city of Rio de Janeiro will host the XXXI Olympic Games, where over 10,500 athletes from 206 nations will display their talent for medals that mean much more than money for most. At stake will be 306 medals from 42 disciplines at 32 venues.
The Games comes at a time when the international order is shaky for reasons that include the Great Recession, inequality of income and the falling oil prices, even as the European Union is preparing to deal with the fallout of the Brexit. An alarming spurt in terrorist strikes and wars has cast a shadow over the prospects of sustained harmony around the world.
For Brazil, battling its own economic and political turbulences, it appears a major challenge to deliver a memorable Games. The crisis has led the government to the verge of bankruptcy. An estimated $12.3 million has been spent in and around Rio on infrastructure and towards Games-related expenditure in a country where roughly 12 million people live in slums.
Known for its inviting beaches, Brazil is struggling to complete the cleaning-up operation after a part of its coastline was awash with dismembered body parts. Garbage, human waste and untreated sewage have added to the problem.
As a result, some top names, including the creamy layer of world golf, have withdrawn doubting the ability of the authorities to deal with the Zika virus.
The drought-hit country mainly relies on hydroelectricity. Given the severe drought, the chances of power cuts during the Games are very high.
Another major concern is the rising pollution levels, particularly in the Guanabara Bay, the venue of the Olympic sailing competitions. Some of the competitors have already described it as an “open sewer.” Efforts are on to clear the bay with the launch of the ‘Bay Without Garbage’ programme but it remains to be seen how things are when the sailors arrive ahead of the Games.
On the brighter side, the activities surrounding the Games have already served Rio well. The infrastructural improvements, including the completion of metro and three projects of Bus Rapid Transport (BRT), are set to be part of the legacy that the locals, known as cariocas, stand to benefit from for years.
Rio’s best-known symbol — the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue — wears a fresh look. The port area, once abandoned, has emerged as the new symbol of refurbishment. The famous Museum of Tomorrow and the port-side boulevard are ready to hold the attention of families and fans during the Games.
One of the biggest successes has been the makeover of the Whitewater Stadium into a water park. In addition, the opening of the Olympic BMX Centre in an area that boasts of the largest youth population has been well received.
Thanks to the Games and the return of golf to the Olympics, Rio has its first public golf course. Built in Barra da Tijuca, the project included the country’s biggest exercise to reclaim the land from the sea. On the course, 650,000 seedlings were planted. All credit to the foresight of the planners who also established a 1.6 million square-metre Nelson Mandela Natural Park next to the golf course. The Park will also play a major role in conservation of the natural ecosystem besides being a place for environmental education.
During the run-up to the Olympics, Rio had held test events in every discipline. In doing so, the people of Brazil were introduced to lesser-seen sport like rugby, which makes its return to the Games after 92 years.
A rugby match broadcast in April on National television has made a huge impression. As the sport caught the imagination of the Brazilians, the number of rugby players in the country is estimated to have risen to around 60,000 spread over 300 associations.Gymnastics, as a test event, also brought in spectators beyond the expected figure. Each day, more than 6,000 spectators watched the action in gymnastics and returned hungry for more.
One of the most important aspects of the Rio Olympics is a programme called Transforma. This project of the Rio 2016 Organising Committee, aimed at the city students, highlights the importance of inculcating sporting values in daily life.
The project has already reached over five million students from around 10,000 schools. As part of the project, children are introduced to lesser-watched events like field hockey, badminton and fencing. Free material is supplied to the children besides training and coaching.
The journey of the Olympic Torch relay has played its part in bringing together the Brazilians like never before. The 95-day journey of the Torch in Brazil involves 12,000 torchbearers across all states.
Following the decision of the International Olympic Committee to include a delegation of refugees as part of the Games under the Olympic flag, Rio 2016 has also made efforts to bring together the refugees into the Olympic Torch Relay.
When the torch relay started in the Capital city of Brasilia on May 3, Hannan Daqqah, a 12-year-old girl from Syria who is a refugee, was among the first 10 people to carry the Torch. It may be recalled that Brazil issued over 8000 visas to Syrian refugees as part of its humanitarian programme.
In keeping with the trend in the past few editions of the Summer Olympics, no Games is complete without the role of volunteers. Rio, too, attracted more than 300,000 registrations from around the world. After interviewing 80,000 under the Rio 2016 Volunteer Programme, 50,000 finally made the ‘cut’. Out of these, around 80 per cent are Brazilians while the remaining 20 per cent include volunteers from America, England, Russia, China and Argentina. The focus has been on the youth with around 40 per cent being below 25 years. Another 40 percent come from the age group of 26-45.
Unlike Adolf Hitler, ahead of the 1936 Berlin Games, and China, before the 2008 Beijing Games, Brazil has no such agenda of proving a point to the world. It has been battling the odds to deliver the Games.
No doubt, the well-known Brazilian spirit will be omnipresent during the Games, as some of the best sportspersons perform in Rio. The presence of legendary names like swimmer Michael Phelps, sprinter Usain Bolt and badminton star Lin Dan adds to the glitter of the Games. In fact, what makes it even more special is the fact that these greats have declared Rio as their last Games, which is the first in the Southern hemisphere.
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