Yearender: Rio defies the odds to host spectacular 2016 Olympic Games

Source:Xinhua Published: 2016/12/29 13:26:48

Golden beaches and lush mountains, samba-fueled passion and spectacular soccer games - Rio de Janeiro is known in Portuguese as the Cidade Maravilhosa.

Fittingly, the Rio Olympic Games have been described by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as "the Marvelous Games in the Marvelous City" after the event turned out to be iconic both on and off the field of play. The Games were a success, and Rio worked against the odds and against the grain of public opinion to pull it off.

Over the past seven years of preparation work, Rio and Brazil encountered numerous challenges while under the spotlight of worldwide media attention. In addition to a turbulent political situation, domestic and international observers did not look favorably on several aspects of the preparation work: the timely construction of sports venues, the under-budget security, the rampant spread of the Zika virus and water pollution at several event locations.

However the Rio Olympics proved the naysayers wrong. Over the course of 16 days, spectators saw the world's best athletes set new records, shatter personal bests, give outpourings of emotion and demonstrate inspiring sportsmanship - the kind of magic that only the Olympics can create. Brazil, known as the 'football kingdom,' won its first-ever Olympic gold medal in the sport. And the Games have helped to introduce Brazilians to other Olympic sports such as rugby and badminton, with several Olympic venues set to be transformed into sporting centers to serve the public.

Rio 2016 broke records off the field of play as well. The Games were reportedly watched by half of the world's population, making Rio the most viewed Olympic Games ever, according to the IOC. Viewership of the Rio Games' online content was reportedly more than double that of the London Games. Iconic venues like Copacabana Beach, the Sambodrome, the Maracana Stadium and the Lagoa provided the backdrop for some unforgettable images.

A study by the Ministry of Tourism of Brazil showed that 87% of foreign tourists who visited Rio during the Games have the intention of coming back, and that 94% want to visit Rio again. The success of the Games also instilled pride and confidence in Brazilians, bringing the country together at a difficult time when opinion was extremely divided.

"We have built a fantastic legacy for the city that was only possible thanks to the Olympic Games," said Rio mayor Eduardo Paes.

Paes' view was echoed by IOC Coordination Commission chair Nawal el Moutawakel, who had this to say at a recent meeting to debrief the Rio Olympics:

"The Rio Olympic Games of 2016 became a catalyst for urban development, which has spurred investment in Rio that would otherwise not have happened. The improvements in the city's infrastructure are a good example. In just seven years, the number of people with access to good quality public transport increased from just 18 per cent in 2009, when Rio was elected, to 63 percent in 2016. There are now four new rapid bus lines, a better rail service and a new light rail system, as well as improved airports...this happened on time and on budget, as expected."

Without a doubt, the organizers had the cards stacked against them in the lead-up to the Games. The uncertainty created by budget cuts amid an economic recession that had earlier rocked Brazil was compounded by the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff shortly before the Games started. At the same time, some anticipated problems, such as the impact of mosquito-borne Zika virus and security worries did not materialize.

Despite Rio dodging these bullets, the Games certainly created major challenges for the city, and many of them have yet to be addressed. A recent report suggests crime levels have soared in Rio after the Games. As the extra security personnel left Rio, the security situation in Rio seemed to revert to its former state. Robberies are again reported at popular tourist spots, and gunshots can be heard in the city's disadvantaged neighborhoods known as 'favelas.' Rio residents are almost certainly missing the sense of safety provided by the Games. To be sure, there are major loose ends that have yet to be tied up. The Rio organizing committee has even admitted that some 700 suppliers have yet to be paid.

But in spite of these post-Games hiccups, it's clear that the Olympics have been a net-positive for Rio de Janeiro. Many years from now, visitors to the city will be able to see the tangible fruits of the Games. The 11,000 seeds that athletes received at the Olympic opening ceremony have already been planted in Rio, and will someday form an 'Athletes' Forest.' It will include 207 species of Brazilian trees, with a different one representing each Olympic delegation.

Rio is a city of complexity and contradiction, and the Olympic Games bearing its name were a fittingly complex and hard-won affair. Like any city, Rio has its shortcomings, and the 2016 Olympic Games had to overcome a plethora of challenges. But the Cidade Maravilhosa overcame the obstacles and beat the odds, putting on a spectacular first Olympiad in Latin America.

IOC spokesperson Mark Adams summed up the Rio 2016 experience perfectly: "I think someone described the Games as the 'most perfect imperfect Games' and that is a rather good characterization. There were problems but what is fantastic was the way these problems were overcome."

Posted in: OLYMPICS

blog comments powered by Disqus