Rio de Janeiro is a very special place. That is why Brazil's unofficial capital is so irresistible for fans of big events. Climate advocates, carnival enthusiasts, Catholics, soccer fans and Olympic athletes: All dream of going to the Copacabana one day. The Summer Olympics in Rio will officially open in less than a week. These are the first games to be held in South America. Since the first modern Olympics took place in Athens in 1896, the sporting event has been staged 21 times in Europe, four times in Asia, six times in North America and twice in Australia.
Where else but in Brazil could people breathe new life into the Olympic movement? Despite gloomy predictions, the country successfully hosted the 2014 soccer World Cup - and the local fans had the sportsmanship and dignity to congratulate the visiting German team even after they beat Brazil 7-1 in the tournament's semifinal.
Many Cariocas, as residents of Rio call themselves, are scratching their heads over the constant criticism of Olympic preparations. For years they have had to put up with huge construction sites, and then they had to look on as a hysterical debate over the Zika virus led to public considerations of moving the games at the last minute.
Cariocas also had to listen to delegations bemoan the poor state of accommodations, even though other Olympics were staged amid much larger problems: Stadiums were not finished in Athens in 2004, Beijing took its turn in 2008 despite permanent smog warnings, and, at $40 billion (36 billion euros), the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi were the most expensive ever.
Rio stepped up
It is true that things are not perfect in Rio. Painterly Guanabara Bay, upon which the city is situated, is still heavily polluted. A new subway line intended to connect central Rio to the distant Olympic Park turned out shorter than originally planned and will likely only be running in test mode when the games begin. And many residents were displaced to make way for Olympic sites. But the games are taking place in South America and not Europe. Residents of such wealthy cities as Hamburg, Munich, Stockholm and St. Moritz voted against hosting the games. In Norway, the government withdrew Oslo's bid because of the enormous demands put forth by the International Olympic Committee.
It is astonishing that despite all of the pessimism and the political scandals in Brazil, Cariocas have upheld the Olympic idea and its tradition of hospitality.
Rio and its residents will characterize these games and leave their mark on them. Thank God! Because the games should adapt to the situation in the host country, and the host country should not be forced to meet the increasing demands of the International Olympic Committee.
And Rio and its residents will prove that it is not overdevelopment, commercialization and perfection that make for successful games, but hospitality and sporting enthusiasm. It would be a great victory if this long-overdue paradigm shift were to begin in this very special city - a victory for Brazil and for the Olympic ideal.
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