As this year’s Olympic host, Brazil opened its arms to the rest of the world on Friday ahead of a vibrant 16-day showcase of physical and cultural triumphs. But the Latin American country’s efforts to impress have not gone uncontested. Issues of health and safety, and political stability have made Brazil’s journey towards success at this month’s Games in Rio de Janeiro considerably turbulent.
Brazil faces a paralysing outbreak of political corruption, as well as a battle against the life-threatening Zika virus. National unemployment levels have reached a record high over recent years, and the city of Rio faces a widespread crime epidemic. At a cost of $14.4bn, staging the world’s most high-profile sporting event – which can come with rewards of great political kudos – has certainly become the subject of much controversy amongst Brazilian citizens. Such calamity doesn’t only ravage the political and societal components of Brazil’s national constructs, though. The International Olympic Committee has found itself in dangerously hot water, too, after the sport world’s most astonishing doping cover-up came to light just several days ago.
If Friday evening’s Opening Ceremony was anything to go by, however, there are already huge positives coming from Rio’s hosting of the Games. Brazil may be shrouded in the darkness of its political and structural chaos, but it’s soft power has been a huge triumph. Not only was Friday’s joyous, colourful occasion a huge celebration of Brazil’s carnival atmosphere and the nation’s tumultuous but very unique history. Rio de Janeiro’s prelude to this year’s Games reminded us of the strength of its culture.
Commencing Friday’s showcase with a brief account of national history, Rio capitalised on its foundations of migration and diversity. Among the first settlers of what is known today as Brazil were humans of European, African, and Japanese descent. Whilst international political debate of recent months has tended to focus on hostility towards growing diversity and the free movement of people, Brazil’s openness and willingness to promote multiculturalism must be reassuring. Even today, over half of Brazil’s population is of non-white ethnicity, and many indigenous cultures exist throughout parts of the nation’s undestroyed natural settings. In 2014, it was noted that requests for asylum had increased by 800% over four years, Brazil being a preferred country among African migrants. This year’s Olympic Games even has refugee athletes competing under the flag of the IOC. Rio’s message of inclusion and unity, reinforced in Friday’s grand opening, has undoubtedly set a sparkling precedent for other nations, and must have restored confidence in its people.
As sport brings people of all backgrounds together, it seems that Rio’s focus on common global issues was particularly fitting. Brazil’s opening ceremony was quick to hone in on the growing threats of climate change. In recent months, the worldwide temperature has grown by as much as 1.3°C, just 0.2°C below the critical temperature for major global warming catastrophe. By encouraging all athletes to plant a tree as part of Rio’s sustainable legacy, raising awareness of increasingly detrimental CO2 emissions, and finishing with the symbol of the Olympic rings clad in green, Brazil has made excellent use of the international stage. The Rio Games’ flame cauldron is the most eco-friendly ever, too. With such a vast expanse of rainforest, as well as exemplary energy policy, Brazil is a key player in climate change discussions. Its political track record may not be flawless, but at least the South American has succeeded in focusing on sustainability, a strong focus on which many nations are yet to place.
Brazil’s establishment have been the architects of an almighty mess recently. Judging by Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic showcase, however, Brazil’s people and their ethoses certainly aren’t in decay. Brazil has long been known as one of the world’s most luminous carnival capitals, and had a tourist industry of over $6.6bn in 2012.
Most of all, however, Brazil has shown to have immense soft power, with a progressive outlook on global issues, and a past of diversity and migration which seems to be continuing into the present. The success of the far-right and its isolationist rhetoric is currently damaging many Western societies, shutting out those of different backgrounds, and sometimes denying the importance of tackling climate change. But this weekend, Brazil has proven to the world that it remains level-headed, and boasts impressive soft power. Brazil’s society and its political scene may appear to be weak. But the nation is clearly determined to underpin and hold on to its deeply-rooted ideas of unity promoted by the Olympic Games which will only be reinforced in the coming days of competition, and surely over years to come, too.