by Ernest Barteldes
Last Monday, I was very happy to learn that the IOC had awarded Rio de Janeiro the right to host the Olympic games in 2016. When I first heard the news, I just thought that it was about time. After all, several South American cities had submitted proposals over the years (including Rio, which I believe had tried at least a couple of times before) only to be rejected in favor of North American or European towns.
Granted, giving the Olympics to South America is not an easy choice: after all, the continent has a long history of corruption and crime that would make Chicago look like a piece of paradise (considering its own bad reputation). However, much has changed – specially in Brazil – in the last decade, and it’s due time to recognize those achievements.
My wife and I visited Rio de Janeiro earlier this year, and was delighted by what we saw. Their subway (the Metro-Rio) is very reliable and clean even though it doesn’t run 24/7 like their NYC counterpart does. The bus system, with all its flaws, got us to where we wanted to go without much delay, and I was also impressed by how bilingual the city is – most places had information in English and Portuguese, and quite a few people we ran into could communicate in a foreign language. Of course that wasn’t exactly true in less touristic-focused cities like say, Fortaleza, but I believe a monolingual American would not have a hard time there.
Now right-wing pundits here in the US have used Chicago’s defeat against President Obama, who made his eleventh-hour pitch in Copenhagen earlier this week. I personally think that would be unfair, and do not hold it against him, even though I think he joined the effort a little too late. His Brazilian counterpart Luis Inacio Lula da Silva did quite the opposite, traveling around the world to reinforce his country’s pitch and actually staying in Denmark during the entire time (instead of Obama, who stayed a mere five hours there). President Lula also got the backing of heavyweights like bestselling author Paulo Coelho and immortal soccer superstar Pelé, who all joined him at the IOC. Finally, Brazil’s presentation was not only perfect, it was also quite emotional -denying it would have reeked of bigotry.
I recognize there is much to be done in the next seven years – for instance, extending the Metro to the upscale neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca (it only reaches the famous beach of Copacabana today) is a must, and easier airport-city connections are a must. Lodging might be a problem, as I don’t think that the city’s hotels can presently handle a huge wave of visitors in what is already a busy time of year for the city (sun-seekers usually flood the city during the months of June and July). And there is also the issue of security – not all tourists have the ‘radar’ for avoiding trouble that I developed in my many years in Brazil.
In spite of all these concerns, I do give Rio a vote of confidence that it will be able to solve these issues at least to an acceptable level. I also believe that after the World Cup and the Olympic Games, the world will be able to see Brazil in a new light.