TODAY fireworks will flash and burst, flags will fly, and crowds will roar as more than 11,000 athletes in procession wave to the world to mark the start of the Olympic Games in Brazil. Chaplains in the English-speaking Anglican Christ Church in the host city, Rio, said this week that the Olympics will be “outstanding, full of all the vibrancy, colour, and life you would imagine Brazil would inject”.
The chaplains, the Revd Mark Simpson and the Revd Alexander Cacouris say the new transport infrastructures that have been built, including a high-speed bus line, metro, and new tram line, are “hugely beneficial” to the residents of Rio, as is the “thrill” of hosting the Olympics.
But amid the excitement, Christ Church is also witnessing resentment among its people. Brazil, say the chaplains, is still working through a financial crisis; corruption and mismanagement claims are rife; and the Zika virus, which can cause severe defects in new-born babies, is blighting tourism. “State funds have been diverted to make sure the Olympics run,” they say. “State employees are only receiving instalments of their salaries, and some state-school children have been off for the past four months — some university students all year — in order to manage the city budget.”
There are also fears that police are being underpaid, and congregations are worried about the consequences. “It again highlights to people the mismanagement of state funds by the government and politicians, who seem more concerned with their personal legacies (and bank balances, so the allegations suggest) than the genuine needs of the people.” Moreover, the threat of global terrorism is a “new and unfamiliar one to Rio”.
Mr Simpson and Mr Cacouris feel, however, that fears about the state of the country and its management have been exaggerated in the world media, to the detriment of the country’s reputation, and “the disappointment and bewilderment of its people”.
The Zika virus, though a threat, “seems to have been inflated beyond its actual scale; project management of the Olympics has been a challenge, but no one likes its being highlighted as a cultural flaw; and corruption has always been there. That these aspects are focused on, without any positive stories is “hard for people to read,” they say.
Mr Cacouris, who attended the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony on Sunday night, said that the show “will reflect a wonderful side of Rio — a warm and generous people who approach life, mostly, with a vibrancy, joy, and creative energy that’s contagious”.
The Pope said on Wednesday that he hoped the Games would “inspire all. . . to ‘fight the good fight’ and finish the race together, desiring to obtain as a prize, not a medal, but something much more precious: the construction of a civilisation in which solidarity reigns, and is based on the recognition that we are all members of the same human family, regardless of differences of culture, skin colour, or religion.” He later urged Brazilians to “overcome difficult moments” and work together to build “a safe country”.
Concerns over the financial burden of the Games come as a report, The Economic Burden of Physical Inactivity: A global analysis of major non-communicable diseases, published in the medical journal The Lancet, concluded that physical inactivity cost health-care systems more than £40 billion world-wide in 2013. Of this, £10.4 billion was owing to loss in productivity as a result of deaths related to physical inactivity, which is associated with a range of chronic diseases.
The report suggests that wealthy countries suffered most from the economic consequences: 80.8 per cent of health care costs, and 60.4 per cent of indirect costs.
A spokesman for the charity Christians in Sport, Jonny Reid, said that he hoped the report would encourage people to be more active. “Playing sport is a great way to use the bodies God has given us, in worship, and also to share life with people in our communities.”