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03 Oct 2009 05:31
Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach erupted in samba dancing and joy on Friday after the Brazilian city won the vote to host the 2016 Olympic Games, bringing the world’s biggest sporting event to South America for the first time.
The decision in Copenhagen kicked off a Carnival-style celebration on the sand as thousands of Cariocas, as Rio residents are known, danced and shouted in delight in front of a big stage and screens that showed the International Olympic Committee’s vote live.
Brazilians hope the bid will help Rio restore its image as a city of cheerful beachgoers and soccer fans after growing drug-related violence has tarnished its reputation abroad.
The victory may help Brazil consolidate its rise as a key player in global politics and an important economy that has quickly emerged from last year’s financial crisis.
Donning Brazil’s signature green and yellow colors and bandannas with the words “It’s Rio’s Turn,” thousands of jubilant beachgoers reveled to the backdrop of the Copacabana waves and scenic Sugar Loaf mountain—well-known sites the city used in its campaign to secure the Olympic bid.
“Rio had to win, we’ve got everything—beaches, women, samba,” said Edison Andrade da Silva (41) selling sunglasses on Copacabana’s main boulevard. “The Olympics are going to be marvelous here.”
One of Rio’s top Carnival samba troupes struck up as revelers unveiled a huge flag saying “Rio loves you,” alongside an image of the city’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.
Above them were television screens, largely ignored by the crowd, showing images of a President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Copenhagen weeping alongside Olympic officials.
“It’s good because it’s going to bring more tourists,” said Robert Wallace (18) a Rio native who works selling beer at one of dozens of tents on Copacabana beach.
“Right now all people outside Brazil hear about Rio is the violence,” he said.
Cariocas played pick-up volleyball just behind him on the same sands where 2016 Olympic athletes will fight for the volleyball gold medal.
‘Good for Brazil’
Rinaldo Gaudencio, who looks strikingly like Barack Obama, drew a crowd of onlookers by poking gentle fun at the US president and his hometown’s loss.
Dressed in a suit and flanked by two mock security guards with earpieces, he posed for pictures with a cardboard cutout of Michelle Obama in a Rio 2016 outfit.
Rio’s thousand slums, or favelas, are sometimes the site of gun battles between police and gangs, which were seen as potential weaknesses for the city’s bid. It also lacks nearly half the necessary stadium capacity and needs to make considerable investments to improve transportation.
“I think it’s good for Rio and good for Brazil,” said Felipe Augusto Cabral, a 22-year-old university student celebrating on Copacabana. “It will make a lot of things better, the security situation more than anything.”
Critics of bringing the Games here say the investments would be better made in Rio’s poorly funded hospitals and schools, and worry that poorer people could be left out of the gains in a city that suffers sharp inequality.
Surveys have shown strong support for hosting the Games in Rio, and the city’s campaign made the most of the famous passion of its people and its stunning natural setting between mountains and the sea.
The International Olympic Committee appeared to be persuaded by the argument made by organisers and Lula that Rio needs the Games to help it overcome some of those social problems.
“Certainly Rio has violence but so does every city. We held the Pan-American Games [in 2007] and nothing happened and we won’t have problems with this,” said Marco Antonio Machado, a 52-year-old federal government worker who was given the day off for the occasion. - Reuters
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