Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games have been formally opened with a lavish and ceremony at Maracana stadium.
Broadcast to an estimated audience of three billion, the ceremony celebrated Brazil’s history, culture and natural beauty, before former marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima lit the Olympic cauldron.
The build-up to Rio 2016 has been played out against a deep recession and political protests in Brazil.
Rio Olympic Games, the first to be held in South America, have also been disrupted by concerns over the Russian doping scandal, the Zika virus and problems with the city’s security, infrastructure and venues.
Organizers will hope the focus can now shift to the action in 28 sports, with 207 teams, after the Games of the 31st Olympiad were officially opened.
The Olympic cauldron was lit by Vanderlei De Lima, who won bronze for Brazil in the marathon at the 2004 Games after he was grappled by a spectator while leading the race.
Soccer legend Pele had ruled himself out of performing the role saying he was not in the right “physical condition”.
With Brazil’s economy struggling, the budget for the opening ceremony was thought to be considerably less than the $50 million spent on London 2012’s extravagant display.
While Rio’s event did not match the enormous ambition of the ceremony directed by Danny Boyle four years ago, those inside the Maracana were treated to a show that mixed light displays, fireworks, dancing and music.
After a simple but emotional rendition of the Brazilian national anthem, sung and played on acoustic guitar by singer-songwriter Paulinho da Viola, video projections beamed on to the floor of the stadium explored the history of the nation.
Starting with images of micro-organisms dividing and giant sculptures of microbes – representing the beginning of life – the ceremony showed the contributions made by the nation’s indigenous peoples, by Portuguese explorers, by African slaves and by Japanese immigrants to Brazil’s history and culture.
Performers strode across projections of giant buildings, symbolizing the cities of Brazil, and a recreation of a 14-bis biplane – the invention of Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont, which first flew in 1906 – drew one of the biggest cheers of the evening as it flew out of the arena.
One of the warmest welcomes of the evening was given to a team consisting of refugee athletes – the penultimate team to enter the stadium.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said the refugee athletes were sending “a message of hope to the millions of refugees around the globe”.
The local crowd of 60,000 exploded with noise as the Brazil team, with London 2012 modern pentathlon bronze medalist Yane Marques flying the nation’s flag, emerged into the stadium to chants of “Brasil, Brasil, Brasil”.
Thomas Bach shone a positive light on the Games, despite the problems around the organization in the build-up to Rio 2016.
“These first Olympic Games from South America go from Brazil to the entire world,” he said.
“All Brazilians can be very proud tonight. With the Olympic Games as a catalyst, you have achieved in only seven years what generations before you could only dream of.
“You have transformed Rio de Janiero into a modern metropolis and made it even more beautiful. You managed this at a very difficult time in Brazilian history. We have always believed in you.”
Rio 2016 president Carlos Nuzman said he was “the proudest man alive”.
He added: “I am proud of my city, proud of my country. Let’s celebrate together as we work together to build the Games.”
International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice-President John Coates has branded the preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympics as the “worst” ever seen.
John Coates said the IOC has taken “unprecedented” action by placing experts in the local organizing committee to ensure the Games go ahead.
“The situation is critical on the ground,” the Australian said.
The news comes as Brazil faces a race to be ready in time for the FIFA World Cup 2014, which starts in 44 days.
John Coates, who has been involved in the Olympics for nearly 40 years, has made six trips to Rio as part of the commission responsible for overseeing the preparations.
IOC Vice-President John Coates has branded the preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympics as the worst ever seen
He added that one of the experts embedded in the local committee was a construction project manager.
“The IOC has adopted a more hands-on role,” he said.
“It is unprecedented for the IOC but there is no Plan B. We are going to Rio.”
John Coates said that, in his opinion, this was “a worse situation” than in 2004, when there were concerns about preparations for the Athens Games.
“It’s the worst that I’ve experienced,” he added.
“We have become very concerned. They are not ready in many, many ways. We have to make it happen and that is the IOC approach. You can’t walk away from this.”
Preparations for the 2004 Athens Games were marred by delayed in construction and service delivery, but the venues and infrastructure was ultimately delivered in time.
John Coates said that construction has not even started on some venues in Rio, which will host South America’s first Olympics, while infrastructure is significantly delayed and the city has “social issues that need to be addressed”.
He added that Rio organizers have the same number of staff – 600 – as London did at the same stage in their preparations for 2012, but did not have the necessary experience.
John Coates, who was involved in the organization of the Sydney 2000 Games as head of the Australian Olympic Committee said it was proving difficult for the IOC to get the answers they needed.
“No-one is able to give answers at the moment,” he said.
“Can they use the car parks in the village for recovery centers? What will be the time to take from this venue to this venue?
“All of those things, they’re being fobbed off.”
John Coates also claimed that only two people were working in Rio’s test event department with tournaments scheduled to start this year.
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