Foreign leaders slow to commit to showing up at Rio Olympics opening ceremony
Brazil’s political turmoil and river of bad news casts cloud on 2016 Games
Many top foreign leaders have been slow to commit to attending the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics amid Brazil’s political turmoil and a stream of bad news engulfing South America’s first games.
Top politicians who do show up could face a diplomatic quandary when the games open in three weeks.
President Dilma Rousseff has been suspended and faces an impeachment trial, which could conclude days after the Olympics end. She has said she hopes to attend, meaning she would join interim president Michel Temer as the main faces of the host nation.
“If you are a top world leader, whose hand would you shake in the middle of such uncertainty?” Maristella Basso, a professor of international law at the University of Sao Paulo, told The Associated Press. “It is a bizarre situation. The best that foreign leaders can do is to send a letter and stay home to avoid any embarrassment. It won’t be a party occasion for Brazil anyway, look at the mess.”
An early prediction that 100 heads of state or government could be on hand at the August 5 ceremony has not been repeated for weeks. The Brazilian foreign ministry declined to offer numbers, and said a list would be published just the before the games open. Organising committee spokesman Mario Andrada said he did not know how many leaders would attend.
The Brazilian news website UOL puts the number at 45 and lists United Nations Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon as a confirmed guest.
France is an exception. France’s embassy in Brasilia told AP that President Francois Hollande will attend the opening ceremony. Paris is a candidate to host the 2024 games.
Italy’s embassy also confirmed that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi would attend. Rome is another 2024 candidate.
The United States embassy did not say if President Barack Obama would attend. Brazilian media has reported that Secretary of State John Kerry is the American official most likely to be at Maracana Stadium. First Lady Michelle Obama represented the US at London’s opening ceremony in 2012.
China, one of Brazil’s main trade partners, did not reply to AP’s request for information. Brazilian media say China will send Vice Premier Liu Yandong, who is in charge of education and sports. She ranks far below President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
Even Argentina, Brazil’s main partner in the region, has yet to confirm the presence of President Mauricio Macri, although its embassy in Brasilia says he is expected to come.
Japan has also not confirmed its delegation. However, Japan would seem likely to send a top-ranking representative with Tokyo the next host of the Summer Games.
Britain, which held the last Summer Olympics, has just changed its prime minister and its representative is in doubt.
Russia is another question mark. Many Russian athletes have been caught up in a giant doping scandal. A report due on Monday may confirm allegations of state-backed doping by Russia. Already, the Russian track and field team has been banned from the games, pending an appeal.
Even many left-leaning Latin American governments that supported Brazil as South America’s first Olympic host have yet to confirm.