'Financial Times': Rio Olympics 2016: Brazil bows out with lavish closing ceremony

Chutzpah returns to country battered by economic and political crises

Rio de Janeiro wrapped up the 2016 Olympics on Sunday evening with a lavish show of Brazilian culture as the country exulted in a games that far exceeded expectations at home and abroad.

An enthralled crowd braved strong winds and rain to pack Rio’s Maracanã stadium for music ranging from the lyrical Brazilian song “Carinhoso” to folksy forró and a display of dancers skilfully portraying the image of the Christ the Redeemer statue.

The show signalled the return of some of the traditional chutzpah of a country that has been battered by twin economic and political crises, although any feel-good effect may fade once reality comes roaring back this week, analysts say.

“The Rio Olympics brought back some hope and joy at a moment of deep national crisis,” said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at Washington-based think-tank the Wilson Center.

The end of the games comes as Brazilian politicians are expected to begin the final phase of the impeachment of leftwing president Dilma Rousseff this week, opening the way for her permanent replacement by centrist interim president Michel Temer.

Once he is fully endorsed, Mr Temer will face intense pressure from business and markets to implement tough fiscal reforms and end what is expected to be Brazil`s worst recession since at least the 1930s.

“The games have produced some good vibes and may help Temer navigate the messy situation he will officially inherit from Dilma Rousseff at the end of the month,” said Mr Sotero.

But he said polls showed that most Brazilians still believed the cost of holding the games outweighed the benefits, a realisation that would temper any optimism.

Others believed the games would have at best a neutral effect, with most Brazilians just relieved nothing went wrong.

 “The real challenges will become clearer after the games and after the impeachment, so the government won’t have any respite,” said João Augusto de Castro Neves, analyst with Eurasia Group. “Now, the real games will begin.”

Tellingly, Mr Temer did not attend the closing ceremony after he was booed at the opening two weeks ago. Eduardo Paes, Rio’s mayor and a member of the same party, the PMDB, was the only Brazilian politician to appear in the stadium and was mainly booed by the crowd.

Before their opening on August 7, the Olympics had been dogged by concern over the mosquito-born disease Zika, pollution in Rio’s bay, the possibility of a terrorist attack and fears over crime.

But after a few teething problems the games mostly went smoothly, with the biggest headlines coming from alleged misdemeanours by foreign guests.

This included the arrest of Pat Hickey, head of the Olympic Council of Ireland, over an alleged ticket scam, and an attempt to cover up a late-night act of drunken vandalism in a petrol station by a group of US swimmers led by gold medallist Ryan Lochte.

The swimmers had alleged they had been robbed by men posing as police but were forced to apologise after Brazilian detectives quickly revealed they had been lying.

On the sporting front, Brazilian fans received their much longed-for first gold medal in Olympic football off the boot of their best player, Neymar.

 The outside world, meanwhile, was treated to sport played against the spectacular backdrop of Rio’s beaches, mountains and lagoons.

As Brazilians tuned into the closing ceremony, many took to social media to post messages of sadness that the games were coming to an end.

“I’m already missing it”, “Don’t end!”, “I’m already suffering”, tweeted distraught fans. “And what if we refuse to hand over the Olympic flame — then it can go on forever!” tweeted another.

During the closing ceremony, the national teams marched into the stadium, many wearing raincoats to keep out the downpour.

The show went on to celebrate traditional materials, such as clay and lace, highlighting the culture of different states of Brazil.

The medals ceremony for the men’s marathon was held to commemorate the 1896 Athens Olympics, when all the medals were handed out on the last day.

There was a handover ceremony to Tokyo, which will host the 2020 Olympics. And then the Olympic flame was extinguished by Brazilian singer and actress Mariene de Castro. This was done using artificial rain, symbolising the importance of tropical waters, even though nature had already conspired on Sunday night to provide plenty of the real stuff.

 

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