Brazil Gives Farewell Party to Pan Athletes But Nobody Comes

Empty Maracanã for closing ceremonies of Pan American Games "Good but not perfect," that's the way Mario Vazquez Raí±a, president of the Pan American Sports Organization (Odepa), diplomatically summed up the Pan American Games just staged during the last two weeks in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"There's much to do to get the Olympic Games." said Raí±a, adding: "The reality for Rio is that these Pan Am Games open the door for a good bid." The Mexican official was referring to Brazil's dream of hosting the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

"Today, we lived a special day," continued Raí±a. "I want to thank the Brazilian government for all its effort to stage the games. The party was wonderful and you the fans were fantastic. See you in 2016."

The marvelous city, as Rio is known worldwide, said goodbye to the sports extravaganza with plenty of music and fireworks. Brazilians are proud of the games. They not only showed the world they are able to host an international complex competition with no serious glitch or security breach but also demonstrated they are becoming better competitors, getting a total of 161 medals, the best ever in a Pan.

The closing ceremonies held in the Maracanã stadium, a temple to soccer playing, had a mix of Brazilian and Mexican sounds as a reminder that four years from now Guadalajara in Mexico will be hosting the sports event. The rain, however, scared the public and the huge stadium wasn't even half full. It seemed like 60% or more of the seats were empty.

The party started on a sober note with an homage to the 199 fatal victims of Brazil's worst air accident ever, which happened on July 17, just a few days after the start of the games. Firefighters who took part in the bodies rescue entered the stadium carrying the Brazilian flag while the national anthem was played.

Then it was the time for the 41 delegations who too, part in the games to parade through the Maracanã. Among those parading was the reduced Cuban team since many of their athletes had been rushed back to Havana apparently due to fears that there would be a massive defection. Four Cubans defected in Brazil during the Games.

Once again Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who had been repeatedly jeered during the opening ceremonies, was booed even though he decided to skip the farewell party. The booing would happen every time his name or the word president was mentioned by the speakers, which included Rio de Janeiro's governor, Rio's mayor and the Odepa's chief.

To avoid the constant booing, after some time the speakers started to refer to "federal government" instead of mentioning Lula or president.

While the original budget for the games was 500 million reais (US$ 260 million) Brazil ended up spending 3,7 billion reais (US$ 1.92 billion), close to 800% more than anticipated, to build the infrastructure and stage the Pan. Almost half of this money (1.8 billion reais – US$ 940 billion) came from the federal government.

For Brazil it was the best campaign ever in a Pan-American competition, with a grand total of 161 medals: 54 golds, 40 silvers and 67 bronzes. This gave Brazil the third place in the games by the number of medals.

The United States came on top with 97 gold medals, while Cuba ended up in second with 59 golds. Brazilians recognized, however, that they wouldn't have done so well if the US had sent its top athletes instead of the second-rank team they fielded.

The balance seems to be positive for Brazil. Cariocas (Rio's residents) were friendly and enthusiastic mostly during competitions involving Brazilians. There were, however, scalpers and people selling falsified tickets and getting food in some venues was problematic.

On the other hand, transportation, for a change, worked and violence dropped thanks to thousands of federal troops. Hotels are expecting to make an extra 20 million reais (US$ 10.4 million). Street vendors also did quite well , but there were gouging complaints. All of this despite the air transportation chaos in the country.

There were also problems with the new structures build for the games and with an eye to the Olympics bid. The Rock City, for example, which housed the baseball and softball competitions, showed it wasn't ready for prime time. It had roof problems and seats for the public got detached from the floor and ended up inside the court.

Special Mention

The gold medal in unsportsmanship goes to American Chen Wang.  Wang was so mad for having won a bronze medal in table tennis and losing the silver medal to Dominican Xue Wu, this Saturday, July 28, that she threw the flowers she won to the fans and handed out her medal to Victor Borges, an 11-year-old boy who had come to see the game with his parents. Little Victor still can't believe his luck. His parents, however, can't believe how arrogant and disrespectful the athlete was.

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