The Olympics is here again. As usual there are many question marks raised about conducting a costly and lavish extravaganza in a country with lot of poverty around. Also questions are raised about the ability of such a country to organise such a mega event. But unsurprisingly it is the not so well off people of Brazil who are welcoming it more than the rich.
Here, the spectacle of the Olympics seems distant and surreal. While VIPs watched Friday night’s Opening Ceremonies inside Maracana Stadium, the two million people who live in Rio’s 1,000 favelas watched on TVs jury-rigged to electrical lines. The Copacabana beach volleyball venue is less than half a mile from Chapeu Mangueira, but that is as close as residents will get to Rio’s Games, which are costing $6 billion in a city that is in such financial straits it can’t afford to pay its police officers, stock its hospital pharmacies or provide toilet paper to schools.
Still, the people who live in Chapeu Mangueira — named after a hat factory that used to stand on this site — and the adjacent Babilonia favela seem more excited about hosting the Olympics than their richer neighbors down the hill in Leme.
“Ever since I was a child I dreamed about what it would be like to have the Olympics in Rio,” said David Bispo, who was a torch bearer during the relay when it passed through the city on Thursday. “Now is the time to value the Olympics and appreciate how sports can bring people together.”
When the Brazilian national anthem played on Bispo’s TV, customers and employees sang along. Waitress Andria de Souza enjoyed the show, especially the hip-hop performance by favela kids and the parade of nations.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to display their talents on the world stage,” she said. “I like that each country isn’t just carrying a flag but also carrying a Brazilian plant, and they’re going to create a garden.”
But she is critical of the government and Olympic organizers for not keeping their promises, including one to build sewage treatment facilities for the favelas, where fetid waste runs in the gutters.
“We would like more low-income housing and more parks, soccer fields and basketball courts for the children,” de Souza said.
But in Chapeu there was a neighborly, friendly vibe. Men got their hair trimmed at the barbershop. Children practiced judo and boxing in the gym. Samba drummers and singers rehearsed. A little girl pulled a toy car fashioned out of plastic soda bottles. A little boy played with a puppy. An old man digging in a dumpster chatted with police. Daiane Silva sold grilled skewers of chicken.
“I’m excited to see Neymar play,” she said of the soccer star.
Residents gathered at Bispo’s pesujo “dirty feet” pub to drink beer and watch the ceremonies, which director Fernando Meirelles hoped would be an “anti-depressant” for Rio. He directed “City of God,” the movie about one of the city’s most violent favelas.
“I think the Olympics will uplift Rio’s spirits,” Daniel Alves Lima said as dancers in Carnival costumes performed on TV.
“I’d like the Olympics to go on forever because there are so many beautiful women and happy people,” Dionisio do Viera said. “The Olympics can bring positive change to Rio.”
Bispo hopes to persuade Usain Bolt to come visit, eat his famous seafood salad with black-eyed peas, “and inspire the slum kids,” he said.
It’s a long climb to Chapeu, unless you hop on the back of a motobike for $2. And the poorer you are, the longer the climb from your job in the hotels or restaurants below. The smallest shacks are higher on the hillside.
The favela of Tabajaras rubs up against the million-dollar homes on Vitoria Regia street at the top of a mountain. Gunshots hit the walls of the mansions earlier this week.
But it’s calm in Chapeu, a place that’s hard to find, hard to forget. The people understand the Games are an illusion, but they don’t mind playing along.
“The Olympics bring peace,” Bispo said as the sounds of bossa nova, samba and tropicalia wafted from his TV. “The world will see Rio in a good light.”
In an ideal world there should not be any such extravagant celebrations using public money where so many people are in dire need of basic necessities. But it seems people who are excited and enjoying more are those who have very little to celebrate in their own life.
For me Olympics is the celebration of humanism and diversity. As the Olympic charter declares, Olympism is trying to blend sport with culture and education, seeking to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles. It’s goal is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity, without discrimination of any kind. It promotes mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.
I think we should never hesitate in celebrating the Olympic spirit, which should naturally make us all strive for a more just and equitable world.