Arriving in Rio around 5 weeks ago, I could have been forgiven for thinking that the Olympic games had been put on hold. There were a few metal structures abandoned on the Copacabana beach and if you looked very hard you might see a shop selling some official merchandise, but that was about it. There was no Olympic buzz, no excitement, it all felt a bit gloomy – just like the weather. Fast forward to a week ago and it’s as if someone has turned on a switch and the city has jumped into action. There are workmen everywhere, trimming trees, replacing street lights, repairing roads, completing grandstands; the sun is shining on Rio and the games are about to begin.
Suddenly there are people everywhere. Groups of tourists and volunteers getting in some sight seeing while they have some spare time, official cars stuck in traffic and even the fruit in the supermarket is sporting an official Rio 2016 sticker.
I have been speaking to a number of locals about their thoughts on the games. Most of them have little or no interest. The state of Rio is broke, so any money being spent on the Olympics is perceived as a huge waste, especially considering the lack of basic services here. Some people have told me that they are worried about security. Others have concerns about congestion in the city – Rio traffic is already a nightmare without adding to it – but most just don’t see that it is relevant to them at all. Two years ago they hosted the football world cup and they had no trouble getting excited about that: even though they came fourth, that was very different.
Add to this the scepticism around the favela pacification programme that has been running for around six years, where police moved into some of Rio’s favelas in an effort to reduce violence and crime ahead of the Olympics. There are very mixed opinions on the success of this programme and an almost overwhelming concern from those who live in these areas about what will happen when the games are finished and the tourists have left.
The eyes of the world will be on Rio and Brazilians are a proud people who want to put on a great spectacle fit for the Olympic games – and I’m absolutely sure that they will. But as one chap explained to me, they just don’t have anyone in the games that they can route for. Maybe it’s as simple as that.