After prolonged uncertainty, project delays and mismanagement amid economic and political crises, Brazil laid out a smooth and vibrant Rio Olympics opening ceremony on Saturday.
The show at Brazilian football’s spiritual home, the Maracana Stadium, would have come as a huge relief to the nation and beyond. Saving the environment was the theme of the ceremony directed by Brazilian film maker, Fernando Meirelles, apt for a nation which is home to the Amazon rainforest.
There was much joy among the athletes and the thousands of spectators, their spirit making up for the budget cuts forced on the show, which Meirelles had described as “gambiarra”, or make do. The flames lit by Brazil’s worst recession for nearly a century even spread to a low-emission cauldron, to save on gas.
The Rio ceremony cost a fraction of the $42 million London spent in 2012, and its conduct would lift the spirits in the first Latin American country to host the Olympics. Artistes and children charmed the world with their performances, and even the last samba dancer exuded the joie de vivre Brazil is renowned for as she skipped out of the stadium.
Gustavo ‘Guga’ Kuerten, Brazil’s globally popular three-time French Open champion, energetically brought the Olympic torch into the stadium. It was aptly lit by Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, whose dreams of marathon victory at the 2004 Athens Games were scuppered after the race leader at the 35km mark was tackled by a defrocked Irish priest. Despite the intrusion, he won the bronze and was honoured by the International Olympic Committee for sportsmanship.
Cordeiro stepped in after Rio’s own Muhammad Ali moment of Atlanta 1996 didn’t materialise. Football great Pele couldn’t do the honours due to hip problems following recent surgery.
While the opening ceremony raises hopes, the Games have thrown up the big question whether countries like Brazil, or BRICS partner India, can afford to put on the ‘greatest show on earth’.
The Rio Games has parallels with the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games. Although the sports were efficiently conducted, corruption and mismanagement in the build-up had sullied India’s image. India shelled out an estimated ₹70,000 crore for the Games (approx $1.7bn) while the Rio Games is estimated to cost $4.1bn.
Like spectators in Delhi, who heckled speakers at the opening ceremony to voice their protest, Brazil’s acting president, Michel Temer, too was booed. One hopes it turns into one long cheer when Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps lead the race for Olympic glory.