Rio Games should be a showcase of global peace and unity as well as sporting excellence
The controversial and problematic build-up to the Olympics will be pushed aside as the events take centre stage under the eyes of the world
The lead-up to every Olympic Games is the same: Will the infrastructure be finished on time, are spectators going to show up and will the cost for the host city be worth it? Rio de Janeiro has added further uncertainties with the backdrops of the Zika disease outbreak, financial and political crises, worries about terrorism, crime and water pollution and a drug cheat scandal. But, as always, all will be pushed aside today with the opening ceremony and the coming 17 days of the world’s greatest sporting spectacle. Replacing the gloom and alarm will be athletic excellence, triumphs, extreme emotion and friendship.
Major sporting events are like that; the preparations are studied in the minutest detail. That has been especially so for Rio, the first Olympics to be hosted in South America. But the city that won the staging rights in 2009 to showcase Brazil’s burgeoning economy is not the same, a crushing recession and downturn in oil prices affecting its ability to cover the US$11 billion games bill. The emergence of Zika, a virus spread by mosquitoes that can cause birth defects, criminal gangs and the relaxed way Brazilians go about life does not help.
Terrorist fears have been sparked after authorities two weeks ago arrested 10 people believed to be members of a group supporting Islamic State who were thought to be plotting an attack. Concerns have been compounded by protests by unpaid government workers, among them police. President Dilma Rousseff has been stripped of her powers while awaiting an impeachment trial on allegations of illegally financing budget deficits. A further shadow has been cast by Russia’s institutionalised doping of track-and-field athletes that is so against the Olympic spirit that it has stained the event; about 30 per cent of its original 378-strong squad has been barred.
But from today, all that will be pushed aside in the excitement to see the world’s finest athletes shine. For China, particular hopes for gold medals will be pinned on Ma Long, the world’s top-ranked table tennis player, and controversial champion swimmer Sun Yang. Hong Kong will be eager for cyclist Lee Wai-sze to become the first citizen to win a second Olympic medal. All the world will be watching Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and American swimmer Michael Phelps compete in their last games, and golf and rugby return after lengthy absences. But in an unsettled world, what Rio has to strive to be most remembered for is bringing together 206 competing nations, 10,000 athletes and a global audience in the name of peace, unity and sport.