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The Rio Opening Mirrored By the Media


THE NEW YORK TIMES: If there was a nation in need of an uplifting spectacle at this moment, even in the form of a public relations exercise, it was Brazil. The first South American country to host the Olympics is reeling from an astonishing combination of political upheaval and economic crisis. Its efforts to stage the world’s biggest sporting event met trouble at every turn, from the Zika virus to polluted waters to budget cuts so deep that basic operations became strained.

So the opening ceremony of the Summer Games arrived Friday night as a salve, disguising the wounds for a few hours and letting Brazilians celebrate everything from the waves of immigrants still putting down stakes here to Alberto Santos-Dumont, the aristocratic bon vivant whom Brazilians credit with inventing the airplane.

BBC: So there was no Pele, volleying a fireball into the Olympic cauldron. There was none of the shock and awe that defined Beijing’s opening ceremony eight years ago, and less of the humour and history that made London 2012’s first night so special.

But there were dancing microbes, and super-cities, and Gisele Bundchen as the Girl From Ipanema. There were giant yellow butterflies, and passinho dancing from the favelas. There was drumming – there’s always drumming – and there was carnival, of course.

And if nothing could ever top the Queen skydiving out of a helicopter with James Bond alongside, then no-one should ever try. This is Rio’s party, and at last it has begun.

Opening ceremonies aren’t meant to make much sense. Did the rest of the world really understand the collective glow of happiness across Britain when London’s first three minutes featured Radio Four’s shipping forecast, the Wind in the Willows’ Mole and Ratty and the EastEnders drum intro?

These have been difficult years and months leading to this moment. And so the mood was one of relief that it was actually here, that the scandals and scares that have blighted the build-up at last have something more life-affirming to crash up against.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Brazilians pride themselves on “gambiarra” — the talent for making something out of almost nothing. That sort of shoestring ingenuity has become a necessity at the 2016 Summer Olympics, which have been hit with massive budget cuts and one setback after another.

So it came as no surprise that Friday night’s Opening Ceremony had none of the high-tech wizardry that made the opening of the 2008 Beijing Games memorable. Or elaborate theatrical sets like the 2012 London Games.

Instead, organizers turned Maracana Stadium into an intimate party filled with samba music, spinning lights and wild dancing.

“We are very used to this, this makeshift and improvising,” said Fernando Meirelles, the creative director. Borrowing an expression from American television, he described it as “being a MacGyver … in fact, MacGyver-ing rocks.”

In a country that is home to much of the Amazon rainforest, the ceremony was on its way to making a political statement that touched upon historical slavery, modern urban strife and, most of all, climate change and the depletion of natural resources.

“The fact of the budget is irrelevant when you have good ideas,” executive producer Marco Balich said. “I think it’s also the right thing too for this moment in Brazil, and for this moment in the world.”

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: More than celebrate culture or create excitement, Rio de Janeiro’s opening ceremony had to demonstrate competence. When so much had been made of what had gone or could go wrong at these Olympic Games, it was critical for Brazil, as hosts, that this go right.

Against a background of protests, petty crime and a discoloured warm-up swimming pool portending the end of civilisation, Rio’s response was to show that it could choreograph a hightechnicolour samba party to perfection. Although this is largely a made-for-television production, a TV broadcast could only do approximate justice to the complex, dazzling and emotionally moving display designed and performed by the locals. Now to fix those leaking taps.

The spectacle is all the more important given the changing nature of the opening ceremony as an event. Once upon a time, this was an athletes’ march-past with speeches. Now, the show is the thing. On Friday, bowing to professional preparation, a mere sample of the 11,000 competing athletes, plumped out by team officials, took to the Maracanã Stadium. Australia’s happy few slipstreamed a mighty roar for the Independent Olympic Athletes (Kuwaitis whose national organisation had been suspended, and who were possibly mistaken for the Refugee Olympic Team also marching, later on, under the five-ringed flag).

THE GUARDIAN: Let’s face it, nobody likes opening ceremonies. Even Danny Boyle’s wonderful pageant of decline and whimsy and creative nostalgia at London 2012 was basically a lot of things going on for a long time before some sport was allowed to happen, albeit redeemed on that occasion by the genuinely rare achievement of not being brain-achingly mundane, facile, or clogged with schmaltz.

On a clammy night in the Maracanã Stadium, Rio 2016 did what it could. Best of all the ceremonials were agreeably short, coloured at the edges by a minimum of hectoring cant about saving the world and believing the children are our future. As the lights dipped and the air turned a lovely cool ocean blue, the big screens showing images of an oddly cloudless surf and happy smiling favela kids, there was even something deliciously seductive about feeling the drip of bad news, the obstacles and outrages fade away for a moment.

The best bit came at the start when Samba great Paulinho Da Viola appeared in a gleaming blue suit and strummed the national anthem, like the world’s most impossibly handsome super-patriotic gameshow host. Beyond that there was a lot of dancing. And drumming. Some puffs of smoke appeared. On the stage a huge green clenched fist was unveiled, symbol of something or other, as the dancers enacted the arrival on these shores of successive immigrants, from Europeans to Africans, to people referred to in the programme as “The Arabs”

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: As the grandstands were shaking, the choreographer had achieved their objective. Dancing people, singing and clapping their hands, captured by the atmosphere that should inspire sport and lots more from the center of the huge Maracana Stadium. Rio, Brazil and ideally the whole world. Not only with the message of the opening of the world’s largest sports festival Friday evening, the Games of the XXXI. Olympics; but also with the beneficial side effect that is attributed to the assembly of the youth of the world: promoting friendships across all boundaries, connecting cultures.

Where could this be done more successfully for two weeks than beneath the eyes of the Christ on the Copacabana? “Lay down your arms”, said the UN Secretary- General Ban Ki Moon, on the basis of the gesture passed down from ancient times, to leave to leave sword and shield in the corner during the Games.

That still remains a dream of mankind. Just like the hope of the all-healing power of love, which the artistic multi-media program of music and dance communicated. The cultural history presented ranged from the melancholy songs of the enslaved natives via the Bossa Nova, the Samba, right through to the creative voices from the Favela, as if all the pain and suffering might be relieved and made endurable by the joy of movement. All the state-supporting, which had threatened the great festivities financed by government in front of an audience of billions, on Friday night in Rio initially had no chance. Even the presentation of the national anthems, played by a small ensemble, was conducted without pathos.

LE FIGARO: The strong emotional impact on the Brazilian spectators in the stadium shown by the enthustiac singing and dancing of the crowd and Carlos Nuzman’s impassioned words « The dream has become reality. I am proud of my city and of my country. The world is here. Rio is proud. Never forget your dreams ; we didn’t forget ours. We have never given up. Rio is ready to make history.

The larger than life French flag-bearer, Teddy Riner, who has been a wonderful ambassador for French sport and for Paris 2024. – The crowd’s mixed reaction to the controversial Russian team.- The same crowd’s enthusiastic reception of the Refugees’ team entering the stadium just before the host nation.

The suspense surrounding the final runner of the Torch Relay. With Pelé’s tweets during the Ceremony Gustavo Kuerten brought the torch into the stadium and Vanderley Cordeiro lit the cauldron seting all of Rio on fire. A great start to the Games.

This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.

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