A police car patrols in front of 'Etnias' (Ethnicities), a large graffiti wall by Brazilian graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra at Porto Maravilha in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 01 August 2016.
Photograph: EPA/NIC BOTHMA

Is this to be the first of many or the last for some time? 

When the Olympic Games open Friday in Rio de Janeiro, not only will Brazil have to show the world it is up to the challenge, but South America will also have to show it can deliver.

In securing the world's premier sporting event back in 2009, the main argument of then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and influential football head Joao Havelange was that the Games had never been hosted by a South American nation.

Backed by this claim and a joyful, self-assured message, Rio beat more powerful rivals such as Madrid and Chicago, which lost out despite US President Barack Obama travelling to Copenhagen to support his home town in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Lula, who was riding a wave of popularity at the time, was jubilant.

"We are top class!" the country's leader had exclaimed. "We want the opportunity to show that we are competent, that we can do things as well as they do in Germany, the United States, or like any other country around the world."

Brazil was chosen to host the World Cup and the Olympics, a show of strength and ambition from the most powerful country in the dynamic South America.

But much has changed since that triumph on October 2, 2009. 

Havelange, a former FIFA president, has given up his IOC membership and has pulled out of public view, fighting illness and a sullied reputation from the corruption scandals that have recently rocked world football.

Lula is under judicial investigation, while his successor, Dilma Rousseff, could be impeached. Brazil is in the midst of a political crisis with unpredictable consequences.

The country has not been spared either from the economic problems that have rocked the world since the financial crisis of 2008. The past few years have seen the real's value fall, while the state has made little effort to hide its economic woes. 

The success of Rio 2016 is not only crucial for Brazil, but also other countries in the region - notably Argentina. Buenos Aires is hosting the 2018 Youth Games and yearns to host the Olympic Games sooner rather than later.

Aspiring candidates for 2024 have already been determined, which leaves the Argentinian capital needing to put itself forward as an aspiring candidate for 2028 soon.

"[Brazil] are our immediate neighbours and we want the Games to go well for them," said IOC member and Argentine Olympic Committee president Gerardo Werthein.

"We should have the Olympic Games in the region again soon," Maggie Martinelli, the head of Peru's mission in Rio, told dpa.

Martinelli, who is one of the executives of the organizing committee for the 2019 Pan American Games, does not dismiss a potential Peruvian bid.

"We'd love to host the Olympics, but we're a long way from there," she said. "It's OK to dream since that doesn't cost a thing."

Dreaming isn't a bad thing when you look at the unflattering headlines on Rio 2016 recently: the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay, the Zika virus, violence in the favelas, horrid road congestion and deficiencies inside the Olympic Village which have provoked bitter complaints from influential countries like Australia.

"I think it will be a long time before the region is given the chance to host another Games after these," Daniel Garimaldi, the Argentine coach of Chile's swimmers, who has the experience of six Olympic Games, told dpa.

"If Australia is unhappy, that is very different from Argentina or Chile being unhappy. It won't help at all, it will make it very difficult," he added.

The first of many in South America, or the last for some time? The answer to that question will probably depend on what happens in the next two weeks.

For the British newspaper The Telegraph, the answer was clear: "Every four years, the story is the same," it wrote. "Forget the naysayers, Rio will be a success."

Related stories

Ex-FIFA president Havelange dies aged 100

Messi changes mind, will play again for Argentina

Brazil rise to second and Chile to fourth in FIFA rankings

IOC chief Bach says no Zika fears for Olympics

Latest news

Serbia's EU negotiator says minority rights neglected

The head of the Serbia's European Union accession negotiation team, Tanja Miscevic, said in Novi Sad on Wednesday that minority rights had been neglected for many years and added that positive results in that regard cannot be achieved over night, the Beta news agency has reported. 

Scientists: Nearby star's 7 rocky planets are "best bet" for life

New analysis of telescope data shows a dwarf star just 40 light years from Earth has at least seven apparently rocky planets with potential to harbour water, an international team of scientists announced Wednesday.

Croatian PM receives EIB Vice-President

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic met on Wednesday with European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice-President Dario Scannapieco for talks on the bank's contribution to a new investment cycle in Croatia and its support to the Croatian government to implement key projects, a press release from the government's office said.

Bomb explodes outside police officer's home in Northern Ireland

A bomb exploded outside a police officer's home in Northern Ireland on Wednesday but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Denmark to charge man with blasphemy over burning Koran

Danish prosecutors said Wednesday they have opened a rare blasphemy case against a man who videotaped himself burning a copy of the Koran.

South Africa to raise taxes for the wealthiest

South Africa will raise the income tax rate for the country's wealthiest to 45 per cent from 41 per cent, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced Wednesday.

Reformist Macron wins support of key centrist leader for French vote

France's reformist presidential hopeful, Emmanuel Macron, got a boost on Wednesday when he picked up the support of a party leader whose centrist constituency played a pivotal role in the last two presidential elections.

Amnesty International warns of nationalist rhetoric and hate speech in Croatia

Croatia continues to have problems with discrimination against ethnic minorities and with freedom of the media, while heightened nationalist rhetoric and hate speech during election time contributed to growing ethnic intolerance and insecurity in the country, global human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in its annual report on the state of human rights in the world in 2016/2017.

Official assigned to Wilders' security team held by Dutch police

A security official assigned to protect Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders is being held by police on suspicion of passing along classified information about the lawmaker to a Dutch-Moroccan crime gang.

100th anniversary of rescuing starving children marked

A special ceremony was held in Zagreb's Croatian National Theatre on Wednesday to mark the 100th anniversary of one of the greatest humanitarian undertakings in the history of the Croatian people which saved children in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from famine in the last two years of World War I.

Italy's 'Red Thing' could make impact in election debut, polls show

Two polls conducted for RAI public broadcaster released Wednesday showed a new entity that split from Italy's ruling Democratic Party

Council: Nixing grants to "Novosti" would cause far-reaching implications

The Council for National Minorities, a state-level autonomous umbrella organisation for all ethnic minorities in Croatia, has stated that the cancellation of financial grants to the "Novosti", a newspaper of the ethnic Serb minority, would produce far-reaching implications and stir criticism for reduction of free speech and of freedom of expression of the most numerous ethnic minority.