A silver lining in Rio despite pre-Games gloom and doom

Wed Aug 3, 2016 9:30pm EDT
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By Paulo Prada and Stephen Eisenhammer

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - It's as predictable as the fixed, two-year calendar for the Olympics themselves.

Before every edition of the Games – winter or summer, rich or developing world – a litany of complaints, criticisms and doomsday predictions play out in the news media and among foreigners and host country locals alike.

Beijing was going to snap under the tension of east versus west sensibilities. London was going to grind to a standstill, paralyzed by security fears. In the days before Sochi started two years ago, social media crackled with criticism and images mocking Russian workmanship.

In Brazil, as Rio de Janeiro gears up for the opening ceremony on Friday, a slew of problems have indeed made many question the success of the Games – from a recession, to cost overruns, to forced evictions, to pernicious pollution, to the collapse of a new bike path that killed two people.

An outbreak of the Zika virus, a corruption investigation that jailed dozens of politicians and rich executives, and a political crisis prompting the president's impeachment have also battered Brazil's reputation and self-confidence.

But with as many as 500,000 foreign visitors descending upon Rio just days before show time, a familiar sense of anticipation and festivity are leading many to come to another habitual realization: Things might actually go okay.

"Despite all the talk and all the media, I think Brazil is going to pull off a great Olympics," said Farhad Panahi, a visitor from Toronto, enjoying the contrast from on high between verdant mountains and playful beaches during a tour of Rio's iconic Christ statue. "It's going to be fun and the city is going to have a good time."

True, plenty could still go wrong, even forgetting the financial hangover expected after Brazil spent about 40 billion reais ($12.3 billion) to host the Games just as it reels from its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.   Continued...

An aerial view shows the Christ the Redeemer statue with the Maracana stadium, where the opening cermony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will be held, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes/Files