Brazil 2016 Olympic Games, challenging but positive in the end
Against a backdrop of political and economic chaos in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro has managed to pull it off and stage a successful Olympic Games.
Yes there has been enormous challenges in holding the Games in South America for the first time, but they have certainly not been the disaster the sceptics had been predicting.
And, reflecting overall on the Olympic experience, there has been more positives than negatives and Rio can rightly feel proud of its efforts.
It certainly exceeded my expectations with transport generally reliable, though I was on two buses that broke down.
And the IT system was a huge success with free internet access at every venue and even on buses. And the speeds would have been the envy of any nation.
And while cuts had to be made to the Olympic budget, they did not impinge on the Games to a degree other than an absence of signs.
Apparently a contract was given to a company, but only 15-per-cent were delivered, presumably due to the financial problems.
It made life far from straightforward trying to gain access to venues and in the end officials had to improvise, often with hand written signs to direct the public, officials and media.
Most of the other cuts were on aesthetics, things like landscaping around venues that had been begun but not completed.
The area around the main media and broadcast centre was an eyesore while paths and walkways had been paved and left strewn with stone.
Whether the Paralympics will remembered similarly remains to be seen as a cash crisis has forced cuts to their budget and ticket sales disappointingly low.
Low expectations in the wake of health and economic issues
It would be fair to say everybody arrived in Rio wary of what to expect in the wake of the Zika virus, safety concerns and whether the economic collapse in Brazil would impact the Games.
Zika turned out to be a story sensationalised in the media, so much so that top golfers like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Speith decided to stay away.
But as I was told, there was more chance of being a victim of robbery than contracting zika and most observed they didn’t even see one of those pesky mosquitos.
Security, however, was an issue and, even with heightened measures, there were still incidents.
Photographers, with their expensive equipment, appeared to be main targets as a number were robbed.
There was also media buses being attacked and stray bullets flying around the Deodoro sporting hub, all causes for concern.
But inside our media bubble, we felt relatively safe. And speaking to spectators travelling on public transport, they didn’t feel threatened.
You only have to look around at nearly every home having a security gate and grills over windows to realise that Rio is a city with huge safety issues.
It is sad it is plagued by crime – the poverty is striking travelling past the favellas – because it is a beautiful city.
Beautiful locations at Brazil 2016 Olympics
The vistas from Sugar Loaf and Corcovado over Rio, with its imposing jagged mountains as a backdrop, are staggering.
Then at sea level Copacabana and Ipanema are two of the most beautiful beaches on the planet and a magnet for the public.
They provided some spectacular settings for sports with cycle road races, marathon swimming, triathlon and beach volleyball all centred on Copacabana.
The lagoon, just inland from Copacabana, was equally magnificent for the rowing and canoe sprints while the archery and marathon were staged at Sambodromo that is the venue the Rio’s world renowned carnival.
Sports at the Olympics were held at four sporting hubs – the main Olympic park at Barra, Copacabana, Maracana and Deodoro.
Barra is the main one where the main Olympic Park is situated. It is the most compact I have seen in seven Olympics cities and spectacor friendly.
In Beijing, by contrast, it was vast and sprawling and needed shuttle buses. Here there are about seven stadiums within easy walking distance.
The Maracana offers the world’s most iconic football stadium, built for the 1950 World Cup and superbly remodelled for the 2014 football event’s return.
It is quite fittingly known as the ‘temple of football’ once having a crowd of 220,000, though now the capacity in a tad over 78,000.
Alongside it is the indoor Maracanazinho – Little Maracana – which is hosting the volleyball.
It is a magnificent 14,000-capacity arena with a spectacular domed roof.
This hub also comprises the Olympic Stadium, built for the 2007 Pan American Games that Rio hosted and which was the venue for the athletics.
Deodoro a secure enclave but spectre of crime still an issue
The final zone is at Deodoro, the heart of a vast area of military installations.
Indeed, I am staying at Deodoro Accommodation Village – DAV as it is known – and inside an army base in accommodation tower blocks refurbished for media and games officials.
It is probably the safest place to be staying in Rio, though you are isolated from the outside world.
Deorodo is where the equestrian events, hockey, rugby sevens, modern pentathlon, canoe slalom, mountain biking, BMX biking and shooting were held.
It is considered the outpost, but that is far from the case due to a newly built highway – a cross between a dual carriageway and motorway – linking it to Barra. It is used exclusively for Olympic traffic which can be reached in 30 minutes.
You feel privileged to have the road to yourself. However, it means the Olympic traffic has become a target with two media buses attacked.
That has resulted in an even heavier military presence on the road, which is flanked by a number of favellas, with soldiers positioned every few hundred yards.
So what will be the Brazil Olympics legacy?
In London it was the regeneration in the east end around Stratford where development that would normally have taken 60 years was squeezed into a six-year building plan.
Similarly in Rio, the Barra area has undergone extensive development. The athletes’ village, for example, will later house 11,000 Rio residents.
Some of the stadium are to remain, especially in the hub at Bara. However, many of the venues, especially at Deodoro, are only temporary structures and they will disappear. It is probably a wise decision rather than them remain, never be used and left to decay.
I have heard it mentioned by Games organisers that they hope they hope the Olympics will not only leave a legacy but also bring about lasting changes in the future.
But judging by the political and economic instability here, I think that is wishful thinking with the future looks anything but certain with many challenges to overcome, mainly eradicating poverty.
In the 16 years since my last visit, the situation has not improved – the favellas sadly remain and crime is still massive issue.
And I sadly fear in another 16 years, things won’t have changed because there is no quick and easy fix to removing millions out of poverty in a country experiencing a population explosion that is proving impossible to manage by the government.