Boos reverberated around the Maracanã as interim Brazilian President Michel Temer declared Rio 2016 open tonight after an Opening Ceremony seeking to showcase the power of the Olympic Games to unite the world in a time of conflict.
Temer, who took over as President following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in May, had clearly anticipated this reaction and asked not to be announced to the crowd at the beginning, as is customary for the Head of State.
Boos had also rung out when Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman had referred to support from “City, State and Federal” Governments in an opening speech that was otherwise received enthusiastically.
But there were moments tonight when, as hoped, the carnival and samba spirit of Brazil came to the fore.
Cheers reached fever-pitch levels when the Brazilian team were led out by modern pentathlete Yane Marques.
They were even louder when the Cauldron was eventually lit by Vanderlei De Lima, the marathon runner who was a surprise, but welcome, choice to light the Olympic Flame after the late withdrawal of football icon Pelé.
It came after a shorter-than-usual segment showcasing Brazilian culture in which environmental themes were highlighted, as well as a celebration of Rio’s metropolitan, and favela, culture.
This followed huge budget cuts in the build-up.
The Ceremony, watched by an estimated global television audience of one billion people, also paid tribute to Brazil’s multi-cultural character by marking contributions made by Portuguese explorers, African slaves and Japanese immigrants.
A lengthy catwalk by model Gisele Bündchen was another highlight, although the celebration failed to reach the highs of London 2012 and Sochi 2014.
De Lima, tackled by an Irish priest when leading the marathon at Athens 2004 before recovering to win the bronze medal, epitomises more than most those supposedly Olympian values of unity and overcoming odds.
This was the theme of both speeches as Nuzman – speaking in English and Portuguese – claimed Brazil must “live our dream together and stay together when things challenge us.”
He added: “Always, believe in your dreams.
“We do not give up our dreams, we never give up.
“Our dream is the Olympic city transformed by the Games, hosting the world and transforming humanity.”
Bach claimed how the Olympics are a solution to our “world of crisis, mistrust and uncertainty”.
He told the crowd of 60,000: “Here is our Olympic answer, we 10,000 of the best athletes in the world, living with each other peacefully in the Athletes’ Village.
“In this Olympic world we are all equal.
“In this Olympic world we see that the values of humanity are stronger than the forces which wish to divide us.”
The Refugees Olympic Team, marching out second-last behind Brazil, were hailed as an example of this spirit.
Kenya’s legendary distance Kipchoge Keino was awarded the first Olympic Laurel in a symbolic, if slightly laborious, tribute.
It sought to show how the Olympics still has a vital role despite a fractious build-up dominated by concerns over the readiness of Rio as well as Russian doping allegations.
These issues will not go away.
The hope now, though, is that the athletes, whose arrival took over two hours tonight and was marked by the Olympic debuts of Kosovo and South Sudan, will now come to the fore.
Support was high as all 207 teams entered the arena, including Russia, with only Brazil’s neighbors Argentina appearing to receive any negative reaction.
By Nick Butler
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz