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Rio 2007 Pan American Games End
Aftermath of the biggest sports event in the Americas is better than expected
Alan Mota (al0021)     Print Article 
Published 2007-07-30 23:22 (KST)   
This article was only lightly edited.  <Editor's Note>
As the 2007 Pan American Games set for Rio de Janeiro approached, it seemed that everything was going the wrong way. From air traffic chaos in the entire country to unprecedented violence in the host city, the majority of Rio dwellers and Brazilians in general didn셳 believe the city would be able to live up to the responsibility of hosting the first major sporting event in Brazil since the Pan American Games of 1963 in Sao Paulo, and what could be the second biggest sporting event in Brazilian history, behind only the World Cup of 1950.

In the year of 2007, Brazilians saw a rise in crime (which has been unusually high for a while) and a mini civil war take place for more than a month in one of its biggest slums, or favelas, the air traffic chaos get worse to a point where it was virtually impossible to travel by air inside the country and most importantly, the structural works for the games get behind the schedule to a point where some sports were considered jeopardized for this year셲 edition.

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However, in a surprising manner, as the first spectator entered the Maracana stadium to watch the opening ceremony, it seemed like all the problems magically vanished and Rio was suddenly a city worthy of not only the PanAm Games, but something much bigger. Whenever driving around the city, a tourist or native would see plenty of police cars and national guard cars parked in corners and traffic lights (near and far the venues), officers paying attention to everyone and everything, but without losing their good manners and behaving properly when asked for information. The overwhelming majority of events took place, above all things, peacefully, with the worst aspect of it being a persistent and impolite booing from the spectators towards Americans, Argentineans and anyone playing against a Brazilian competitor.

The most important problem for the games, the late structural works, were suddenly solved at the last minute, at the best Brazilian tradition. The worst cases were the sailing structure at Marina da Gloria, which was late to a point where the sailing competition at the games were at risk, and the Pan American Village, which was considered good and done until part of a floor in one of the buildings went down and the entire building was closed. But by the time the first athletes began occupying their quarters, days before the start of the games, everything was in its right place. The sailing competition also took place in time, with several medals for the host country.

If one thing is certain, is that the majority of cariocas (people born in Rio), who were previously incredulous about the games, ended up missing the whole atmosphere as the closing ceremony began last Sunday, July 29. The games had its mysteries, interesting moments, and also some rotten apples, but the aftermath can be considered positive.

Among its mysteries, the biggest one is: Why exactly did the budget for the games, previously established at around US$400 million, go completely blown away and the games turned out to cost almost five times the initial values, or approximately $1.9 billion? Even though $400 million was a relatively low price tag for a city that had to build almost all its sporting venues from scratch (not to mention other structural works around the city), it셲 not hard, but almost impossible to explain how this same price tag raised so much.

Who flipped the bill, however, is not a mystery: The authorities (municipal, governmental and national), therefore, the people. It wouldn셳 be stretch to think that much (or most) of the money was used improperly, to say the least. It셲 also quite possible that the games could have gone just as well with half the total cost or even less than that.

Another mystery could be the media coverage. Suddenly it was hard to read anything bad about Rio de Janeiro or the games, but it was also hard to believe that the city had suddenly become a paradise. For the ones who live in the city, occasionally some news would come about violence or bad organization of the games that wouldn셳 dare showing up in the papers or the nightly news. One special subject that was forsaken by the news was, ironically, the cost of the games. Apart from noticing the billion-dollar bill, the media didn셳 inquire anyone about it. No formal investigation was held, either.

Among the most interesting moments, Cuba was definitely in a couple of them. Starting by the escape of some of its major athletes and coaches, who fled the Pan American Village in search of better pay. The suspicion of mass escaping at the end of the games got so intense among the Cuban delegation that, on the night July 28 (the second last day of the games), the entire delegation suddenly got the order to leave Brazil on a official Cuban airplane, crowding Rio셲 international airport in time to make the nightly news. Athletes were seen at the airport, perplexed, watching their assistants throw their equipment into the cargo section of the plane. By the end of the night all Cubans were gone, and the volleyball team missed the ceremony in which they would receive the bronze medal.

Another funny aspect of the games was the, say, excitement of the athletes. At the Pan American Village, the entire stock of preservatives ran out on the very first days of the games at the pharmacy inside the complex, and at the local nightclub for the athletes (also inside the complex) things were getting out of hand. A few female athletes from the U.S. were forbidden of going there, as they were losing control while dancing to Rio funk songs. Later on, a volunteer (also female) allegedly stripped during one of the parties, and serious measures had to be taken at the club.

The partying didn셳 stop, though. A gas station right in front of the village had to suffer an intervention from city hall officers, for the athletes were buying out almost every alcoholic beverage in place (Brazilian gas stations are allowed to sell beer and other drinks) and taking it to the village across the street. As passersby and other unrelated people looking for fun stopped at the station, it became some sort of improvised party point during the games.

But not everything was fun at the games. Among the low points of the games, the worst one didn셳 even take place in Rio, but it shocked the entire country: The TAM flight 2054 accident in Sao Paulo. It pushed the airline chaos back into the top subjects for the news, and it made up a wicked contrast between the tragedy of the victims and their families and the back and forth of accusations among the authorities and the happiness of athletes and their victories at the games. Brazilian athletes all competed with black armbands in homage to the victims and every flag at the games was put at half-post as the country entered an official period of mourning. The closing ceremony also paid respect to the victims.

Other bad news involved the lack of organization, which made it harder than ever for some spectators to park their cars or just get to the standings in time, a terrible traffic that, at some points, completely clogged the city avenues and streets and the insisting violence that interfered with the first few days of the event. The airline chaos also continued, making it hard for many delegations to leave after their athletes were done.

But the unanimous opinion about the games, at least in Brazil, was that the games were more than just good, and that the organizing committee was worthy of applause. The Brazilian performance helped, as the country had a record-setting number of medals, almost reaching Cuba and finishing as the third power of the Americas in sports. But above all things, Rio de Janeiro bade farewell to the participating delegations with a taste for hosting big events, and an eye at the Olympic Games of 2016, to which Rio is a bidding city. If something can be said about this, is that the city셲 homework was definitely well-done.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alan Mota

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