Rio de Janeiro: As the curtains come on the 31st edition of the Summer Olympics, Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes would certainly be heaving a huge of sigh of relief over a job reasonably well done. And so would the 6.23 million people of the second most populous city of this expansive and fascinating country.
It was Paes’ words last month that one found most pertinent — in the context of the troubled build-up to the Games. “When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded us the Games seven years back, they knew they were not awarding to a London, New York or Chicago. The Rio Games should be compared in the context of Rio only,” he said.
At a whistle-stop visit to the city where the Christ the Redeemer statue and the world famous Copacabana beach coexist with grace, what struck me was that the local Brazilians did not try to push any of their problems under the carpet. Our guide, an omnipresent part of the bus tour party, would constantly remind us not to venture out alone — or without a security guard — and try and stick to a group because of the high crime rate in the city.
It’s not that a few of us didn’t ‘stray’ — though within reasonable limits — and this was met with a serious nod of disapproval from him and the guards, as well the local host organisation. So paranoid were they to ensure that none of the tourists encounter any problem to add to the negative vibes about the city that the guard assigned to us was even loathe to allow me to walk a few blocks away to a currency exchange alone.
If security was one of the concerns, so was the traffic. The metro railway network, which connected the downtown areas to the relatively new Barra neighbourhood — the hub of the Games with its massive Olympics Park and the Games Village — may have been delayed in coming, but served to bring the sports loving Brazilians in droves to the venues.
The problem of Zika — a mosquito-borne disease which created panic waves with a number of top sportspersons withdrawing from the Games — was a subject they were quite touchy about. The sponsors of the trip even included the ‘official’ mosquito repellent as part of our kit — even as residents with whom I interacted found it to be an overreaction from the Western media.
Yes, there were some Zika cases last year pointed out a cab driver, adding in the same breath that it was not as big a menace it was made out to be and that it was very much under control now.
The memories that stay with me is that of a fascinating city and venue where the Games were held — warts and all. And this is where Mayor Paes stands vindicated …