The carnival capital of Rio de Janeiro will host a glittering Olympics opening ceremony party on Friday, hoping to draw a line under a turbulent seven-year build-up dogged by recession, drugs scandals, crime and infrastructure stumbles.
The iconic Maracana Stadium will host a pulsating gathering for more than 70,000 fans, 10,400 athletes and dozens of world leaders as the first Olympics to be staged in South America gets under way.
The Rio Games will be the first to host athletes representing 207 countries, including South Sudan and Kosovo, which proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after a NATO bombing campaign to drive Serbian forces from its territory.
The ceremony in the teeming Brazilian city sets off two weeks of sporting excellence and drama featuring the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps that wraps up on August 21.
“I hope the opening ceremony can be a kind of anti-depressant for Brazil,” said one of the show’s creative directors, the acclaimed “City of God” filmmaker Fernando Meirelles.
The ceremony would craft a message of tolerance and care for the environment to a troubled planet, Meirelles said.
“The world is very tense,” the director added, citing the rise of US presidential contender Donald Trump and Britain’s recent shock decision to leave the European Union. “The whole world feels this tension.”
Friday’s opening will light the touchpaper for 17 days of sporting drama played out against some of Rio’s most iconic landmarks.
– Trouble-plagued build-up –
But the party will kick-off after the most trouble-plagued build-up to an Olympics in history, with a biting recession, double-digit unemployment, soaring crime and a public health crisis caused by the Zika virus just a few of the social problems ravaging the city.
Interim president Michel Temer will take impeached President Dilma Rousseff’s place, but could face a hostile reception from the crowd.
Brazilian media reports say that music will be turned up as soon as he finishes speaking to mask any booing from protesters.
“In a way the Olympics is good for Brazil to help us develop, but the country is very sad, full of violence and unemployment,” Carlos Roberto, 56, a dockyard worker told AFP as the Olympic flame passed through the city.