Vanessa Obioha brings home a vivid account of how the Olympic spectacle became reality for Brazil, while chronicling the controversies leading to the games
The odds were cruelly stacked against her. Looking at the prevailing circumstances, nothing was in their favour. From the Zika Virus to economic crises, everything looked so gloomy for the South American country. After a nine-year wait to host the Olympics, her moment of glory arrived. Finally, Brazil became the first South American country to host the Olympics.
In place of the usual celebration and excitement accompanying what many countries would consider good news, Brazil struggled with despair and frustration. Staring at her boldly in the face was the mosquito-borne Zika Virus which made Australian top-golfer Jason Day pull out of the sporting event. There was also the pollution of the Guanamara Bay where the sailing sports will hold.
Away from health and environmental plagues, the country had to contend with economic and political issues. Early this year, President Dilma Rousseff was forced to vacate the presidential seat following allegations of complicity in a money laundering scandal at the state-controlled oil company Petrobras. Recession was at its peak and terrorism was a present danger.. Just two weeks before the Games, an Islamic jihadist group was busted by the Brrazillian police.
Besides its internal problems, other participating countries had their own issues that impacted on the reputation of the games.. Russia, an active participant in the games waited till the eleventh hour to know her fate following the doping crisis. They were initially banned from the games as most of their athletes failed the doping test. Almost one -third of the athletes were not allowed to take part in the games.
Perhaps, the biggest hurdle for Brazil was its initial budget of $18 billion for the games. In 2012, London spent $15 billion on Olympics while Sochi spent $21. 9 billion in 2008. Brazil however will be the first country to host the Olympics for a lesser budget of $13.3 billion since1960. With a per-capita income of $8, 802, the country was forced to revise her 2016 budget to $170 billion reais. At the end of the day, the country could only cough out 10 per cent of London’s budget.
Yet, hope was kept alive for the South American country. Friday came with a beam of hope despite the protests in some parts of the city that forced the Olympic torch bearers to change course.
In Rio de Janeiro, the host city of the XXXI Olympics, a large crowd had assembled, taking in the breathtaking view of the Maracana Stadium. Lights and fireworks were already on display. Behind the stadium stood the magnificent Christ the Redeemer statue, standing like an eternal sentry watching over the city. Situated at the Corcovado Mountain, overlooking the city, the orgnisers found other aesthtetic uses for statue; projecting light in the green and yellow natiionl colours of the country, which illuminated the city at night. The splendour of the 38 metres tall statue seemed to offer redemption to the groanings of the city.
At exactly 20:00 Brazilian time (00:00 Nigerian time), the world became a stage for the opening ceremony of the Olympics. For the next couple of hours, Brazil forgot its woes and basked in the glory of its rich culture.
Starting with a video of a wave crashing into a beach, the video gave an aerial tour of the city, highlighting its popular sports played on the beach, roof-tops of buildings, including its historical Amazon forest and the streets of the city. It was followed by a countdown. At the count of zero, the whole stadium erupted in a colourful and magical display of fireworks and lights, eliciting thunderous cheers from the thousands of spectators gathered there.
Before the spectators could snap out of the reverie of the fireworks, the choreographers marched in, shimmering in their silvery attires. With the map of the country boldly displayed on the floor of the stadium, the metallic paper carried by the performers created an illusion of waves. More fireworks were ignited in the stadium as the drum rolled, for once dimming the various controversies that had riddled the country in the past weeks leading to the event.
Brazilian singer Paulinho da Viola performed the Brazil National Anthem while the flagpole seemed as if it sprouted from the ground of the stadium.
Portraying the image of a happy people with more athletes and youngsters coming on stage, the organisers took the spectators on a historical journey.
The history and development of the South American comany through the years was re-enacted on stage. Themed ‘The Birth of Life’, the journey began in the land of the palm trees.
Enveloped by projections of clouds or waves, followed by insect-like puppets and a swarm of yellow butterflies, the choreographers showed the lifestyle of the people who lived in the forest.
An indigenous representation of their heritage in the Amazon followed suit with the use of elastic surgery band which at first looks like a spider web but transformed to three pyramidical structures that represents the traditional huts of that time.
In came the ships, showing the arrival of the Portuguese and their use of trees to change the landscape. The African slaves were the second to arrive and left great footprints in the sand of the time. The arrival of the Arabs further showed the mixed ethnicity in the country. A major takeaway from the history lesson is the role of the Japanese in Brazil. The Japanese population in Brazil is greater than anywhere else except in Japan.
The old Brazil soon gave way to a contemporary ‘Box City’ with the erection of buildings nd structures similar to a modern city. Sprightly gymnasts were seen jumping over the burgeoning metropolis represented by the big thick boxes. The city comprises of 73 stacked boxes which are used as mini-stages. At this juncture, there were more trees on display.
Rapidly, the dancers began to stack the boxes to reveal the historical air plane inventor from Brazil, Alberto Santos Dumont ready to take off in his iconic 14 Bis. He is believed by Brazilians to be the original inventor of the flying craft. He was represented by another man and flew further than his 60 metres in 1906 within the stadium. While he was enjoying the scenery of the beautiful city, Uber model Gisele Bundchen catwalked the length of the stage to Daniel, who performs his grandfather’s (Tom Jobim) popular song ‘Garota de Ipanema’ (Girl from Ipanema)
More performances followed before the 11,000 athletes representing the participating countries marched in, waving their flags with pride. Ahead of each country was a Brazilian cycling in colourful tricycles. The athletes were also given seeds which they left in a trail, signifying the legacy they will leave behind after the games. The seeds would later form a brilliant green version of the Olympics rings.
The organisers also seized the opportunity to campaign against global warming.
The Olympic cauldron was finally lit by former marathon runner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima. And off went the fireworks igniting the kinetic sculpture of the cauldron in brilliant kaleidoscope of lights. Designed by American artist Anthony Howe, the cauldron is a hybrid that moves itself through the wind and reflects fire. It represents the sun, a major source of renewable energy.
What Brazil lacked in funds, they gained in setting. In the words of Leonardo Caetano, Rio 2016 ceremonies director: “We had much less budget than any of the most recent opening ceremonies – we used that to our benefit,” the Brazilians gave the world an unforgettable show.
But the implication of this is feared to have an adverse effect on the people. The protests so far were from civil servants who moaned the non-payment of salaries and lack of infrastructure in the city.
Will the momentary glory of the opening ceremony override the rising tides of multifarious colossal problems before the end of the games?