Rio 2016: A challenge for South America

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."

Last update: Sun, 21/08/2016 - 12:38


Ex-FIFA president Havelange dies aged 100


Tuesday, August 16, 2016 - 14:12

More from Sport

Ramos earns Real Madrid a dramatic draw in El Clasico

Sergio Ramos earned Real Madrid a dramatic late draw in El Clasico by heading in a Luka Modric free-kick to hold...

Leaders Chelsea make statement with comeback win at Man City

Chelsea sent a strong statement to the rest of the Premier League on Saturday with a 3-1 comeback win at Manchester...

Convincing win takes Hoffenheim fourth in Bundesliga; Hertha third

Unbeaten Hoffenheim moved up to fourth in the Bundesliga with a 4-0 thrashing of Cologne Saturday while Hertha...

Ronaldo, Griezmann and Messi leads FIFA awards shortlist

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been joined by Antoine Griezmann in final shortlist for the FIFA best men's...

World champion Rosberg retires from F1 racing

Nico Rosberg says he is retiring from Formula One racing, five days after winning his first world title in the sport...