How Rio's passion will deliver an unforgettable Olympics

Ylenia Lemos

“Look! Fireworks!” I said to my mom as I peered at red laser lines cutting the sky one nigh outside my uncle’s apartment in Rio de Janeiro. “Those are not fireworks,” said my dad. “The favelas (slums) are fighting again. They are shooting each other.”

On that same night, on our way out to dinner, I saw children knocking at our car, begging at the traffic light; one man getting killed by a bus and another one on the floor wrapped in a black plastic bag. I was six then, and it was my first time in Rio visiting my uncle from Sao Paulo: this is the ugly side of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with remarkable landscapes and beeches. Its radiant inhabitants are special too. Rio is one of my favourite places although, being half Brazilian, I realise I am biased.

The city’s victory in the competition to host the 2016 Olympics makes me immensely proud and hopeful for my country, whose political strength and political-economical-social stability has been ever-growing. This win is a reflection too of president Lula’s recent speeches using Obama’s “yes we can” motto and his ability to convoy local support - uniting Rio’s state governor Sergio Cabral, the mayor, Eduardo Paes and president of COB’s (Brazilian Olympic committee), Carlos Arthur Nuzman and international support - especially from not developed countries. Moreover, the propaganda mobilisation, which involved legend Pelé playing football with kids and author Paulo Coelho hosting a lunch for an audience of women, was a smart play that contributed to the triumph.

The Cariocas, as Rio’s residents are called, were right to celebrate the event with great fervency and I certainly felt their same joy, even though from a distance. It’s not just about being the first country in South America or about hosting a leading event, but it’s something that gives us hope that things will be better for our green-yellow-blue flagged country. The securing of the Olympics also reinforces the reason (and return on a huge investment) of Brazil staging the 2014 football world cup. Many infrastructural projects the country needs so badly will come to fruition as a result: railroads, highways, urban transportation, security, hotels and other buildings and projects for the tourist industry. These numerous projects, to be developed over the next seven years, and which have already started, will greatly improve the city and well-being of its 14.5 million inhabitants.

Yes, Rio’s vast favelas, heavily armed drug traffickers and trigger happy police certainly don’t help the hosting of such a prestigious event. Nonetheless, the government has promised substantial improvements to prepare the city. On the other hand, Rio’s vitality will rise above the negative security issues and will give more appeal to the games.

We as a country are finally gaining international respect and I am confident that Rio will win a new and better face in the world as a result of its Olympics success. Despite the transportation issues, high crime rate, poverty and violence, I am confident that these will not obstruct the games and, in President Lula's words, that “the warmth of our people, the exuberance of our culture and the sensation of our joy” will prevail. I endorse wholeheartedly our leader when he says: “Rio will deliver an unforgettable Games. You will see for yourselves the passion, the energy and the creativity of the Brazilian people.”