A week in to the Rio Games and attendances have been disappointing, to say the least. Stadiums are full when Brazilian athletes or superstars like Michael Phelps compete, but that's hardly the case otherwise. Why?
The night has settled in early at the beach volleyball stadium at the Copacabana beach, where Evandro Junior and Pedro Solberg play their preliminary round match. The huge makeshift stadium is almost entirely full. The Brazilian duo is having a hard time against their opponent from Latvia. In the tie break, they rise to the occasion and manage to win the game. The crowd chants "Brazil, Brazil!" with not a single person sat in their chair.
"Everyone loves beach volleyball. That goes for both Brazilians and foreign spectators," says Fabiana from Sao Paolo, whose son Marcio is in attendance with her. "You're at the beach, enjoy the evening, this is Rio!"
Popular sports hardly attracts crowds
Skip forward an hour and a half and the German women's team enters the same sandy stadium, which is now almost empty. Fabiana and Marcio are also gone. The DJ tries to keep the spirits up, but it's nothing in relation to the atmosphere from the previous game. Are the hosts only interested in their own team?
This is the general impression. In fencing, for example, Carioca Arena three is barely half full as the local team's prospects of winning a medal are slim. Right next door, at Arena two, there's hardly an available seat as Brazilian Rafaela Silva takes the stage, with the hope of winning the host country's first medal of the Games. The Olympic football tournament, which is being held mostly outside Rio, is no different. Selecao matches are considered as a nationwide event, whereas the match between 2012 gold medallist the US women's team and Sweden, which saw the champions exit the tournament, attracts a shockingly low number of spectators. It is of course understandable that the home nation will be at the center of attention for the locals, but the lack of enthusiasm about the Games is a stark comparison to the enthusiasm apparent at the 2012 Olympics in London.
"Not all sports is popular here"
"Some sports are not as popular as others here," says Fabiana, who took her son to one of the diving competitions, where there was an apparent feeling that only "officials, fellow athletes and relatives" are in attendance. On the other hand, though, there's the issue of ticket prices. Fabiana says she wanted to get tickets to the 100 meters race with her family, as "the kids want to see Usain Bolt. But this evening alone would cost our family around 400 euros, and that is a lot of money for us." Not really affordable.
Paolo sits on the fence of the rowing arena. From between the trees, he could have a glance of the competitors at the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. He could hardly see anything. Paolo could not afford a ticket, saying it's "too expensive," so the only option is the view from the fence. Most Olympic competitions cost money to watch. People who weren't lucky enough to get their tickets early were astounded by the steep prices, and that's even truer for Brazilians, who feel the country's crisis in their pockets.
"Tickets are too expensive for us Brazilians"
For Felipe, one of the spectators, this doesn't seem to matter. "The games are in Rio for one time, and I want to be there." He comes from Rio, and wants to see all the sports he possibly can. Together with his girlfriend Mariana he has already attended football, tennis, handball, volleyball, swimming and water polo, and had already spent around 300 euros for tickets.
"It is a good investment for me as I'm a big sports fan," he says, while raving about the swimming finals that involved superstar Michael Phelps. The American's story also inspired Brazilians, and even though there were no locals in the finals, the atmosphere was perfect. Phelps managed to excite everyone. "But of course, the tickets are too expensive for us Brazilians," Felipe argues, while adding that the high prices are even more apparent when the average income in the country is taken into account. Felipe also thinks that the amount of money that was spent on Rio's new metro line "could have been spent on other things, as Brazil is not a rich country."
Fans from around the world, however, are enthusiastic about many things: The breathtaking panorama view from the Sugarloaf mountain, the great sporting arenas and, of course, the Brazilian hospitality.
Kyosuke has travelled with friends from Tokyo, where the 2020 Games will be held. He wears his traditional Japanese attire and pulls a rickshaw, and it seems like he's doing everything in his power to get noticed.
Unlike the locals, Kyosuke thinks that ticket prices are just fine, while raving about Rio. "I just love the atmosphere here. We Japanese are rather shy, so I think Japan can learn a lot from Brazil." The conclusion is clear: A good mood - and the Olympic spirit is always a matter of personal opinion, and so are ticket prices.