Rio Becomes Olympic Host City

Olympic Flag arrives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paees arrives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, bearing the Olympic Flag he took charge of at the London 2012 Closing Ceremony.

It’s official: Rio de Janeiro is now the Olympic host city.

Those watching the Closing Ceremony will have seen London Mayor Boris Johnson grudgingly hand over the Olympic flag to Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes (after receiving it from IOC President Jacques Rogge in the delightfully simple handover ceremony), and the flag has now arrived in Rio in predictable pomp (the media were especially excited, of course).

They’ve even released the Olympic Song – Os Deuses do Olimpo Visitam o Rio de Janeiro (The Gods of Olympus Visit Rio de Janeiro).

After Brazil’s eight-minute Samba-soused presentation at the London 2012 Closing Ceremony – which, according to those posting on Twitter, made Brazilians both puff out their chests in pride and cringe and hide in the corner. Whatever the reaction, you’d think that Brazil would be getting excited.

But I’m genuinely not sure if you can say there’s an overall feeling on that front.

On one hand, there are people who are unquestionably excited about the World Cup and the Olympics coming to Brazil, but there are plenty of others who are equally worried that Brazil might be shown in a bad light, and even more so that public money set aside for the venues and the long-promised improvements to cities’ infrastructure will end up “disappearing”, at least in part. I would go as far to say that they expect that.

I was in São Paulo when the Opening Ceremony erupted triumphantly, and people there were – it seemed – generally watching it, if only having it on in the background. But Brazilians are fickle and when it comes to sport, their loyalties lie elsewhere; as legendary sports commentator Tim Vickery noted while broadcasting from a Rio bar soon after the Closing Ceremony, people there had ignored it completely, in favour of watching the footie (to be fair, there were important matches on that evening).

Incidentally, one of the biggest non-logistical challenges will be getting Brazilians excited about sports other than football, and perhaps volleyball, as they host the greatest sporting event on Earth. When I told one of my local friends that Brazil had won a historic gold in artistic gymnastics at London 2012, the answer was: “We do that?”

That said, Twitter and Facebook showed something very different: Brazil’s social media-savvy younger generation have been really engaged by the Olympics. During Brazil’s presentation at the Closing ceremony, they were unashamedly gushing with pride and debating the way in which Rio had been presented to the world in London: everything from “COME ON, BRASIL!!!!!” and “ORGULHO!!!” (Pride!!!) to “Not more *&$%£@! samba.. we don’t all live for samba!”

Rio's Maracanã Stadium will host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and the football at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Rio’s Maracanã Stadium will host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and the football at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

And although others predictably questioned the image of a lowly Carnaval sweep as the first thing that greeted curious crowds, I think they got it more or less right. It showed off the spirit of what the Rio 2016 Games will aim to be: Viva Sua Paixão (Live Your Passion) is their choice of slogan for the Games. And most Brazilians, on Twitter at least, appeared to agree with this sentiment.

So, now the flag is in Brazil, in under four years’ time Rio 2016 – the XXXI Olympiad – will open in Maracanã stadium, where the World Cup opening in 1950. It is one of the many venues that are being updated – along with local infrastructure.

Some stadiums are being built from scratch – and predictably some are behind schedule, as in Curitiba and Porto Alegre in the south. But early this year, FIFA was shown progress at the Cuiabá stadium in Mato Grosso state… ahead of schedule, thank you very much (particularly after FIFA President Sepp Blatter had told Brazil it needed a “kick up the backside”).

In the case of Rio’s Maracanã, it is – thankfully – so far said to be on schedule, although already considerably over budget.

(If that weren’t enough, it has also recently been dragged through the mud after one of its selected construction companies became embroiled in a scandal linked with the infamous Carlinhos Cachoeira corruption inquiry.)

But Rio has had a helping hand for its preparations for the Olympics: the 2007 PanAm Games in Rio have left the city somewhat of a legacy of venues – 47% of them, according to officials, are ready – which probably means they need to be spruced up, but nothing too major.

But it is the R$18 billion (£6 billion) PAC and PAC2 plans to improve infrastructure – including venues, airports and transports systems (Rio’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is coming on well) – that should make the difference, if the money is spent wisely.

Brazilian journalists are keeping an eye on the contracts and bidding processes surrounding the two events, which authorities have promised will be worth the expense for Brazil, and will leave a legacy – the omnipresent buzzword that follows any announcement about spending vast quantities of public cash.

People will be watching to make sure things aren’t left to the last minute – as this is where corruption is said to go unnoticed best. An emergency contract – “Just get it done!” – to finish a stadium with a year to go, can land in the hands of a friend who happens to own a construction company. Not my words, but it’s easy to imagine, and it won’t escape the hawk eyes of the local media.

Three of Rio's four new BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lines - which are meant to help with the extra World Cup and Olympic traffic - are still under construction.

Three of Rio’s four new BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lines – which are meant to help with the extra World Cup and Olympic traffic – are still under construction.

But enough of that. I, for one, really hope the Rio 2016 Olympics will be a success.

The city, of course, has some nature-endowed trump cards up its sleeve: the amazing backdrop of Rio’s stunning bay area – with jungle-covered mountains, colourful relief (mainly, funnily enough, because of the brightly-coloured favelas dotted around the area, some of which they want to raze to the ground to make way for new infrastructure projects) and beautiful beaches.

That will be stunning enough for a lot of people, I think – and if they get it right with airports and buses, well, that’s already far down in second place. Rio is much more than that.

It might sound clichéd, but Rio is life; it’s vibrant; it’s sexy; it’s noisy, colourful and many will find it addictive. Rio will impress, one way or another.

And for that reason, I find it sad that the pre-Olympics doom-and-gloom – which started for London at the end of Beijing 2008 and led up to the Opening Ceremony – has now reared its ugly head fully for Rio.

Olympic Park plan for Rio 2016

This is what Rio’s Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca should look like in 2016.

In London, Brazilian football legend Pelé was asked whether Rio was on its way to being ready. Instead of saying, “Oh, we’ve just had Rio+20 and did okay,” or “We have the FIFA Confederation Cup in 2013 and World Cup in 2014 first to get things right…”, he indulged reporters and said that Rio wasn’t there yet, which they turned into “Rio may not be ready for Olympics”.

Of course reporters have to get their stories – but pushing this same boring “will they, won’t they” line on every major sporting event is getting dull.

I mean, they might well be right – but I have the feeling that Rio will pull it off.

As I say, Rio has two big sporting dummy-runs beforehand to test its venues, infrastructure and accommodation capabilities. And remember that these concerns are pretty much a pre-Olympic or pre-World Cup tradition: Athens 2004… South Africa 2010… and London 2012, don’t forget.

There is no doubt that Rio has its work cut out before it’s ready to welcome the world. No one’s saying there won’t be last-minute panics. But cut the place some slack, for now at least, and cross those fingers.

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