Rio Olympics under way amid turmoil in Brazil

Pass the torch: Over 78,000 people will see the Olympic flame enter the Maracana tonight. © PA

The 31st Olympiad of the modern era will open tonight. Some locals believe the Games are a waste of money at a time of economic strife. Will this two-week festival of sport benefit Rio?

At midnight tonight, three billion people will turn their eyes to the Maracana stadium, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. They will see heads of state, athletes and artistic performers gather for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. The planet’s greatest sporting event will then be underway. Over the next 17 days, more than 11,000 athletes from 208 countries will compete in 311 sporting disciplines.

But controversy has beset the build-up. Athletes have withdrawn amid fears of catching the Zika virus. Medical experts have warned of risks from sewage and viruses in Rio’s coastal and Olympic waters. More than a million tickets remain unsold. There have been allegations of corruption and crime is high.

To some Brazilians these complaints miss the point. Their country has spent at least £9 billion on the Games – soon after a similar outlay on the 2014 World Cup. On Wednesday, hundreds protesting at the spending disrupted the pre-Games torch relay.

They say Brazil can ill afford the Olympics during a period of economic and political crisis. The country’s president is suspended; the Rio state governor recently declared a ‘state of public calamity’; health care and education spending have been cut; and the police have gone unpaid for weeks.

Some of the city’s slum dwellers say tens of thousands of people have been driven to the city’s periphery to make way for building work. And the city’s police kill one person per day on average.

Paul Hayward, who is in Rio covering the Games for The Telegraph, asks: ‘What must they make of us, with our incessant demands and jumbo cans of mosquito spray?’

Hosting the Olympics has invariably brought problems. Several venues in Athens and Beijing are now expensive white elephants, and London 2012’s promise to ‘inspire a generation’ has meant little in reality. Rio’s authorities are now keen to highlight the potential for a positive legacy that will stimulate the city’s economy. But will this two-week jamboree be good for Brazil?

Gold meddle?

A colossal waste of money, some call it. The haughty Olympic party-goers will drop in for two weeks, demanding Rio cleans up its mess for their benefit. Visitors will drive across the city in special Olympic lanes, shield themselves from the country’s problems, and leave struggling Brazilians with the bill. Two weeks of sport is not worth it.

It will be uplifting and productive, respond others. Sport is a powerful affirmation of our common humanity, and the Games are a chance to celebrate excellence. Brazil’s guests will give it an economic boost, a chance to highlight social problems, and a welcome distraction from its political trouble. We should relax and enjoy the Games.

You Decide

  1. Are you looking forward to the Olympics?
  2. Will the Olympics be good for Brazil?

Activities

  1. List as many Olympic events as you can think of in one minute. Who in your class got the most? Then discuss which Olympic sport most interests you, and why.
  2. Work in groups of three. Write and act out a two-minute advert for people interested in coming to Rio for the Olympics. Will you advise them to come, or stay away? Why?

Some People Say...

“The Olympics should be nothing more than a great party.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t care about sport. Do the Olympics matter?
Sport is hugely popular and good for your health. Even if you are not interested in it, billions of people are expected to watch the Olympics. This means many of those you share the planet with will come together to celebrate outstanding achievements and heroic underdog stories.
But I’m not from Brazil. Why are events there important?
The Olympics are inherently political. If we watch them, we encourage them to take place — giving us some responsibility for the consequences. The Olympics are also about more than sport. Tonight’s opening ceremony, for instance, will allow Brazil to show off its heritage to the world. This event is supposed to be a chance for people to enjoy a shared celebration of human potential and values which unite us.

Word Watch

Zika
A mosquito-borne virus which can lead to microcephaly, where babies are born with abnormally small heads and under-developed brains.
£9 billion
The official figure, but some experts estimate the final sum may be over £15 billion.
Outlay
World Cup spending was officially around £11.5 billion.
Disrupted
Police retaliated by firing tear gas and pepper spray.
President
Dilma Rousseff faces an impeachment trial, which could remove her from office, amid allegations of corruption.
Slum
The ‘favelas’ (shanty towns) where some 25% of Rio’s population are estimated to live.
White elephants
Athens’s Aquatic Centre is now unused; Beijing’s rowing and kayaking course is dry and its Bird’s Nest stadium mostly used by tourists driving segways.
Reality
Figures last year showed almost six in ten adults did not play sport regularly in England. The promise to inspire more people to take up sport was crucial in winning London the right to host the 2012 Games.
Legacy
Rio’s new subway extension and modernised airport will last after the Games. But the city has failed to clean up its polluted water.

Subjects

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