It’s all back to the Maracana for Welcome to Brazil II. Rio’s Olympic commentary began to shift towards positive values with the beautifully proportionate opening ceremony, resourceful, inventive and funky. Friday night was Bossa Nova night, you might say.
After the grand scene setters of London and Beijing it felt good to be back on a neighbourhood dance floor. More of the same is promised tonight as Brazil continues its push to steer the narrative away from the usual suspects: corrupt politicians, bad dudes shooting up in favelas and Zika.
To be fair, the latter was never heard of again once the Games began, unless you were a golfer teeing up in Miami. In more than 1,000 cases of foreigners needing hospital treatment during the Olympics, not one involved the mosquito-borne virus.
The Paralympics have not been tethered to a negative Russian drug theme, either, since the organisers imposed a blanket ban on Russia. The scandal has instead focused on classification of impairment, an issue that has been rumbling towards a watershed this past decade and looks set for an overhaul post-Games.
The story of scheming athletes pushing the ethical boundaries to gain an edge is a measure of how far the Paralympic movement has come. It is no longer about the plucky trier having a go against impossible odds but hard-nosed athletes seeking a performance edge. Cynicism and avarice have touched the party, almost eroding its special status.
Self-evidently none would want to see the movement swamped by a cheating culture yet, at the same time, having to tackle the issue reflects a maturing of the competition, a shift in emphasis away merely from participation to the primacy of the contest itself.
Brazil, too, is seeking a similar shift in positioning. It wants the story to be about where it is going rather than where it has been. The hosting of the Olympics and the Paralympics has been about projection and about wresting control of the conversation.
Brazilian Tourism Board head, Vinicius Lummertz, was ready for the onslaught of questions about the venal political class, about the near 20 per cent of citizens that live outside the system in favelas, about the Zika threat, but not the first-world conceit that underpinned much of the pre-Games script.
“People forget that we were not a democracy until the late 1980s,” he said. “We had a military government and a closed economy. In the early ’90s international trade was only 10 per cent of GNP. It has doubled since then, but compared to more advanced economies we have a long way to go.
“This is not a rich country. We faced huge economic problems and political crisis, so the Olympics were a huge challenge, but I think we succeeded, with very high approval rates. With the Paralympics we are even better placed to succeed. We are not only showcasing Brazil but the kind of community we are and the effort we put in.”
The complex socio-political dynamic in Brazil is highlighted in toxic accounts, which according to Lummertz, get in the way of opportunity. Brazil is desperate for inward investment, commercial and emotional. There is, he claims, a great untapped resource in Brazil’s history, geography and her people.
It cost the nation as much as $13 billion to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The return on that investment may take decades to evaluate, but it was a gamble Brazil had to take, according to Lummertz.
“It takes time, but with these Games we have seen lots of infrastructure gains. Public transportation has improved, major hotels are opening up in Rio. We have a new venue for congresses and other projects downtown. The Rio that we have now is so much better and will improve still more with the right investment. Unfortunately we talk more about Zika.”
Over to you Rio, make us smile all over again.