CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO —– With the Rio 2016 Olympics opening later this week, excitement in the city does not appear to have reached predicted levels.
Nor, to be fair, is there the mood of vociferous protest seen at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil three years ago. This may be due to suspended Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff taking a back seat in Games preparations. Neither she nor predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will be attending the Opening Ceremony.
But while the world’s media continues to focus on the problems blighting the Rio Games before they have even started, such as worker safety and more missed construction deadlines, some locals in Rio do not even know the biggest multi-sport event in the world is even taking place here.
This writer spoke to numerous locals here in Rio, and two members of staff at a popular international clothing store did not know about the Olympics when asked.
Another Rio resident, Francisco, said that the seemingly ambivalent mood of the city could be down to the focus of other problems going on in Brazil.
The country faces its worst recession in three decades after a fall in prices for Brazilian commodities such as oil, iron ore and soya.
“People know there are a lot more important issues happening,” said Francisco. “Maybe when the Games start this will change but at the moment some people are not caring.”
Delayed infrastructure projects have been a common story in the Rio 2016 narrative. At least today/Monday the last piece of the puzzle falls into line with the opening of the infamous Linha 4 of the metro. The line connects the downtown area of Rio to the main Olympic Park in Barra and is a crucial strut of Games travel.
Rodrigo Vieira, State Secretary of Transport, has said: “Line 4 will contribute to making the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games the best in history and will become an important legacy for the city, improving the quality of life of the people who live here.”
However, despite the fact that it was due to be completed in May, Games organisers did not dare include the line on the travel maps scattered last week among the working metro stations in the city to help spectators make their way to events. The maps have now been updated.
Not exactly a vote of confidence in their new transport link.
Even with the BRT service, in peak service times it could take up to an hour and sometimes more to travel between venues.
Even if Linha 4 is opening to a fanfare of relief, some residents are not happy with the fact that until the Games is finished it will be only for spectators and those working at the Olympics.
Local marketing executive Juliana said: “This is what is annoying. Our taxes paid for that metro, but we cannot use it!”
Frustration also exists over the level of policing in Rio. Not that it is non-existent, for there are policemen to be seen everywhere almost on every street corner in some neighbourhoods. The problem is that this is not the case outside of a special event such as the Olympics or a World Cup.
“We know that Rio is not London, or Paris, or New York – it is more dangerous here.”
Last month police officers staged a protest against the state government claiming they had not been paid. A banner saying: “Welcome to hell” was unfurled at Rio airport.
Recent market analysis suggests that the greatest security risk over the coming weeks will be street crime, with spectators and visitors urged to be vigilant. The Rio 2016 organising committee could not be reached for comment.
Coining it in
At least the Olympic merchandising machine is in full flow with the official store taking up almost the exact space and location on Copacabana beach as the mammoth-sized FIFA World Cup store from 2014.
Queues to enter the marquee and buy Games souvenirs from Vinicius dolls to Rio 2016 flip-flops, stretch along the beach on a daily basis. Muttered complaints can be heard though that the store accepts only credit card payments via Olympic tier one sponsor Visa.
Indeed it is in downtown Rio where the Olympic signage becomes more visible and storefronts exploit the opportunity to showcase any tenuous link to the Games. In outer neighbourhoods the Olympic message is nowhere near as visible.
Still, not long now to see if that mood will change dramatically and whether Rio will be swept up in the usual Games fervour.
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