Rio ‘Ready To Make History’ As Games Begin

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The opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics will try to revive the optimism, hope and joy that won it the Games in the first place.

Carlos Nuzman could be excused for looking a little preoccupied. As the chairman of the Rio 2016 Olympics Organising Committee he has had a few things on his mind.

Self-doubt did not appear to be among them. No host city has travelled a tougher road to a Games than Rio, but one thing that has not wavered is the optimism that they would make it.

“We are ready,” Mr Nuzman said. “Rio is ready to make history.”

As the first South American city to host the Games, that is certain. Whether it is a glorious chapter in the Olympic record remains to be seen.

Carlos Arthur Nuzman: 'We are ready'
Carlos Arthur Nuzman: ‘We are ready’

The list of troubles Rio has faced to get here is so long one might more succinctly ask what has gone right.

“So, apart from Zikavirus, impeachment proceedings against the President, the worst recession since the 1930s, $500m budget cuts, a security shortfall, human effluent in the ocean, a resurgence of violence in the favelas and a massive doping scandal, how’s it going?”

Rio’s answer will start with an opening ceremony that will attempt to revive the optimism, hope and joy that won them the Games in the first place.

Back in 2009 Brazil was on an optimistic roll, the charismatic socialist President Lula riding a booming economy that promised to lift millions out of poverty.

Not even Barack Obama, freshly ordained as US President and lobbying for his home town of Chicago, could stop them when the decision was made in Copenhagen.

Denmark may have come to a halt for the Obamas’ first overseas trip as first couple but it was Mr Lula who carried the day, adding the Olympics to the World Cup.

The victory party was noisy and long but it did not last, and Brazil is today dealing with the hangover.

Economic fortunes have reversed and a political crisis with its roots in a decades-long corruption scandal has seen Mr Lula’s successor Dilma Rouseff suspended from office.

Even without that upheaval, these Games would have been tougher to deliver than most.

Brazil is an emerging nation riven by deep division between rich and poor, where corruption is a given in major projects.

It is also a democracy with a culture of protest, something the Chinese did not have to worry about when bulldozing Beijing’s mega-Games into shape.

Rio’s spectacular cityscape might have been made for Olympic TV, but the geography poses a logistical nightmare, with infrastructure forced to wind round, through or under mountains.

Organisers say they have overcome every issue, more or less.

The crucial new Metro link joining the Olympic Park with the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana and including a stop at the Rocinha favela opened this week.

It will not be used by the public until after the Games but it is a promise delivered.

Bricks and mortar issues are common to all Games, as is security, though a summer of terror in Europe and the Middle East has given concerns a keener edge.

Rio feels more remote from the Islamist threat than the summer’s other sporting spectacle, Euro 2016 in France, but the Games still represent the most high-profile of targets.

Zika was unforeseen and unforeseeable, though a cool start to the Brazilian winter has done more than any government programme to ease mosquito numbers and concerns about contagion.

(Too late, alas, for those golfers who decided to pass up the chance of a lifetime for more time at home.)

Barring catastrophe, these issues will fade once the sport begins. They usually do.

But thanks to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) chaotic handling of the scandal of Russian doping, Rio may not be able to count on it.

Drugs have been corroding faith in Olympic sport for decades, but the management of this episode has fundamentally damaged the credibility of the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Despite having evidence that the Russian state and its sporting institutions corrupted the Sochi Winter Games, along with 20 out of 28 summer Olympic sports, the IOC decided against an outright ban.

Beyond Moscow and the self-appointed cadre of officials who run Olympic sport, it is almost impossible to find a credible voice that supports the IOC’s position.

So a Russian team, made up of 271 athletes who have now been cleared to compete, will march behind its flag on Friday and the world will have to decide whether that says more about the IOC’s cherished “Olympic values” than the sight of “Team Refugee” that will follow them.

There is a chance the contrast will make both appear nauseatingly cynical.

More than ever, the Olympics needs the athletes to come to the rescue.

Every Olympic story needs engaging characters and Rio has a choice of more than 11,000, from sporting giants Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Mo Farah, to the lone sprinter from Tuvalu who comprises his nation’s entire team.

On the beaches and in the favelas, Brazilians will be watching, and even the most critical may harbour a little pride.

There have been plenty of questions about Rio, but for an Olympic movement desperate for a reminder that the Games were founded as a celebration of youth, endeavour and fun, it may be the perfect host.


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