Rio de Janeiro is the marvelous city, the heart of Brazil, a mix of the sublime and the misery of Latin America’s biggest country with the largest economy. This Sunday ended the almost three weeks 31st Summer Olympics hosted for the first time in South America, and contrary to fears and uncertainties ended as a complete success, winning the hearts of all those who shared the Rio Games.
Nevertheless it has been, for months a nerve-racking challenge, and as all things in Brazil success or a major disappointment, were open possibilities. It is to the essence of this chaotic country with eclectic responses.
There was a time not so long ago the Brazilian military were known for organizing or helping organize successful coups in neighboring countries, and having the blame ticketed on US imperialism and its attempts to impede the emancipation of subjugated peoples and the advance of socialism. This was during the Cold War, to the satisfaction of the brotherhood of South American elites.
Since then elected civilian governments were believed to be too politicized and incapable of success in addressing major events, probably the greatest fiasco was the recent 2014 World Cup which was made up to help Brazil win its sixth football cup, but failed dismally in a humiliating and definitive defeat 7-1 against Germany, which erased all hopes of even a dignified place among the top four.
To this must be added all the improvisation, corruption, unfinished stadiums and promises to improve the transport network plus spontaneous outbursts from public opinion which took to the streets, ignoring the political system to protest the overspending, waste and deviation of billions of dollars instead of having them invested in improved education, health service and transport system.
The shortcomings of 2014 were quickly forgotten when last year the US Attorney General swept to jail with most of FIFA leaders in the midst of a major can of worms corruption case, which it has been working on for years and which shocked the beautiful game followers world-wide.
However with the background of 2014, and the coming of the Olympic Games to take place in 2016 in Rio, organized by Brazil, a feeling of deep angst emerged as to a possible repeat of the recent experience, plus the fact the government was overcome by a major political situation that has led to the temporary removal of the elected president, Dilma Rousseff.
Besides, Brazil is immersed in its second running recession year, something unknown since the thirties, and the city of Rio was virtually bankrupt with police, fire fighters, pensions, health services going unpaid or delayed for months. In the two years since the World Cup fracas, the ministry of Sports responsible for organizing the Games had at least four occupants.
Add to this the Zika mosquito disease scare, the contaminated beaches and surrounding sea where water sports were scheduled, the overall sanitary situation since even the equestrian games were threatened by a highly contagious equine outbreak, the reputation of Rio as a violent city and a trigger happy police, the favelas or slums surrounding the city and dominated by drug barons.
Likewise as the countdown ticked insolently and some of the foreign delegations started to arrive, the recently built Olympic village to host competitors was reported to have clogged toilets, dripping sinks, live electricity cables, selfish lifts which chose when to work and even incidents with the security of the buildings.
Some competitors in different disciplines declined the Rio opportunity, the US basket ball Dream Team contracted a cruise vessel docked in the port as their transitory home, while the Russian team was decimated following claims of institutionalized doping.
And let us not forget the international threat of terrorist random attacks, following horrendous cases in Europe, Mid East and Turkey, taking advantage of concentration of people peacefully celebrating or enjoying.
Well none of these feared forecasts happened or impeded the attendance of over 10.000 competitors and a record number of countries as well as Olympic records. Furthermore, any minor flaws that might have happened were several times compensated by the extraordinary spirit of the residents from Rio and the Brazilian people.
In effect the 31st Olympic Games closing ceremony was simply spectacular despite the bursts of rain and wind. Brazilians were at their best, organizing a party with full display of color, music, parade, dancing, fireworks mixing their farewell with that special blend of contagious cultural syncretism rhythm, which was followed by the Tokyo 2020 impressive technological invitation.
The Olympic flag was passed on to Tokyo’s mayor Ms Yuriko Koike, which then opened a vision of the next games packed with a video with Pac-Man, Hello Kitty and other magna and video game icons.
During Japan’s national anthem, 20 performers in illuminated dresses and aboard scooter-like devices rode in on a red field that gradually turned white until they were surrounding the red circle of the country’s Rising Sun flag on a white field.
And inspired on the Queen Elizabeth and James Bond script of London’s 2012 Games, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Super Mario turned up in the middle of the stadium ground from a green pipe supposedly linked to Tokyo. The 2020 Games anticipate much technology surprises and we shouldn’t be surprised if robots are made to attempt human performances.
But Sunday night at the iconic Maracanã Arena turned unforgettable for spectators and delegations invited to the field to dance, sing and take thousands of selfies with some of the most celebrated Rio Carnaval Samba Schools, including lightly dressed queens, musicians, dancers and a several floors float in a contagious atmosphere to the rhythm of “Cidade Maravilhosa”.
A once a year display that takes place during the Carnaval celebration, but which was reorganized for the Rio special Thank You party. Brazilians proved to be exceptional hosts and gained the hearts of all those who shared the 2016 Games.