ATHENS, April 27, (AFP): Greece on Wednesday handed the Olympic flame over to Rio Games officials setting off the 100-day countdown to the Aug 5 opening ceremony. “Brazil is waiting for the flame with excitement and passion,” said Rio 2016 organising committee chairman Carlos Nuzman, adding that the Games would feature “plenty of music, poetry, love”. “Rio is ready to make history,” he said.
The ceremony took place at the historic all-marble Olympic stadium in Athens, site of the first modern Games in 1896. For the rest of the evening, the stadium will be lit in Brazilian green and yellow, the Brazilian embassy in Athens said. The flame was kindled on April 21 in the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera at Ancient Olympia, and carried on a weeklong relay on Greek soil. Before landing in Brasilia on May 3, it will make a brief stopover in Switzerland. It will be presented at the United Nations office in Geneva on Friday and placed on display over the weekend at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, the seat of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Some 12,000 torchbearers will then carry the flame through over 300 Brazilian cities ahead of the opening of the summer Games on Aug 5. Olympic organisers this year are including references to the migration crisis gripping Europe. Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday launched the 100 day countdown to hosting South America’s first Olympic Games with government and global sports leaders insisting they can overcome Brazil’s political meltdown and troubled preparations. New Zealand athletes marked the 100 day countdown with a traditional Haka dance on an Auckland beach at sunrise.
Buildings around the world lit up in special colors — Brazilian yellow and green at Tokyo’s Municipal Government Headquarters and US red-white-blue for the Empire State Building in New York. Several countries also unveiled their Olympic uniforms, including Britain with a set designed by Stella McCartney and the US team turning to Ralph Lauren. With Rio’s hills, beaches and the famed statue of Christ the Redeemer providing one of the most telegenic backdrops in the world, the Games are expected to be spectacular.
But despite the insistence of the Brazilian government and International Olympic Committee that everything will be ready, storm clouds are gathering. President Dilma Rousseff appears likely to be suspended from office through impeachment in the next few weeks. Even her vice president, Michel Temer, who would normally take over — and whom she accuses of mounting a coup — could face action. And with the economy in steep decline for the second straight year, Brazilian unemployment has shot up to 10.2 percent and Olympic organizers have had to slash budgets, fueling fears of embarrassing delays.
Crime remains out of control. Brazil’s human rights record came under fire Wednesday with a demand by Amnesty International for action over rising police killings, particularly in Rio’s favela shanty towns. The rights group said 11 people were killed in police shootings in Rio in just the past month and at least 307 people were killed by police in the city last year — amounting to 20 percent of all homicides. Murders and violent muggings in even the most heavily policed, well-off parts of Rio in the last few weeks have also prompted concern for the safety of the estimated half to one million tourists expected to flood the city.
Terrorism is another worry, although Brazilian officials say a high-tech center to coordinate international security teams will be up to the task. Officials say that Olympic sites are 98 percent complete. However, there are serious delays to the velodrome, while a crucial extension of Rio’s currently limited metro system is only due to open at the start of July, leaving dangerously little wiggle room. Promises to clean up the horrific sewage and garbage pollution in the bay where sailing and windsurfing contests will take place have been largely abandoned.
IOC president Thomas Bach has predicted Rio will lay on an “excellent” Games and Brazil’s Sports Minister Ricardo Leyser insisted to AFP that the political crisis will have “no effect at all.” But setting up the world’s biggest sporting event in a city battered by decades of under-investment in infrastructure and in a country riven by a giant corruption scandal has been full of diffi culties. Rio authorities admitted this week that 11 people died over the past three years on Olympics-related construction projects.