RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 3, (Agencies): South America’s first Olympic Games kicked off with women’s football on Wednesday, when Sweden beat South Africa 1-0 in Rio de Janeiro. Although the opening ceremony takes place on Friday, the football competitions begin ahead of time with six women’s matches on Wednesday and another eight men’s games on Thursday.
The opening action at Rio’s Olympic stadium was lacklustre with few clear chances. Nilla Fischer scored Sweden’s winner after 74 minutes, bundling the ball into the net with her knee after the South African keeper failed to hold a cross. Sweden were superior, particularly in the first half, but could not turn possession into goals. The result means South Africa have yet to win an Olympic football match in their four finals appearances. The men’s competition begins on Thursday, with eight games, including Brazil against South Africa and holders Mexico versus Germany. Without a national delegation, an Olympic scholarship or even an international ranking, Kuwait’s first fencer at the Games in 16 years knows the odds are stacked against him. But Abdulaziz Alshatti has beat long odds before, including the stunning first place finish at a qualifying event this year that punched his ticket to Rio de Janeiro.
The Kuwaiti rattled off a string of upsets in that April tournament, starting with a second-round win over Kazakhstan’s Elmir Alimzhanov, who placed 11th in London four years ago. Even after going up 10-5 in three minutes — a blistering start for the cautious epee that he fences — Alshatti kept calm, he said, shutting out the noisy throng that gathered to watch. If he were more anxious, there would be plenty to worry him. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Kuwait from the Games last year due to sports legislation creating “undue government interference” in the Kuwait Olympic Committee.
The ban, upheld by a Swiss court on Tuesday, means the country’s Olympic committee, and consequently its athletes, are not eligible for any funding from the IOC. Alshatti and eight fellow Kuwaitis eligible for the Rio Games are still free to participate but they will compete under the Olympic flag. Organizers have told him not to wear the attire he brought with Kuwaiti flags and other insignia. “I have to respect their rules. I’m not here to make trouble,” he said. “I play by the rules of my sport and let them worry about their rules.” Coming out of nowhere brings some advantages, Alshatti said, given that no one has had time to scout his strategy and style.
The Olympic flame landed by boat in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday to a welcome committee of samba dancers, cheering crowds and small protests ahead of the opening ceremony. After a torch relay passing through more than 300 towns and cities, the flame was taken by Brazilian Olympic sailing heroes Lars and Torben Grael on a yacht crossing from Niteroi to a naval academy. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes stood on the dock to receive the flame, which burned in a brass lamp and was then used to light the torch.
The mayor, widely seen as hoping to use the Olympics as a springboard for his presidential ambitions, then changed into sports clothes to start the relay through the host city. Costumed dancers and musicians from some of Rio’s most famous samba schools turned the occasion into a street party. Lars Grael said his role in bringing the flame prompted “huge emotions.” The torch was then passed on, from hand to hand, in a route snaking through the historic city center. It will criss-cross the city before being taken into the Maracana stadium late Friday to light the cauldron in the opening ceremony. Brazilians angry at the cost of the Olympics, failing social services, economic decline and corruption have mounted numerous protests along the torch relay route. There are also tensions over a political crisis in which suspended president Dilma Rousseff faces being ejected from office within weeks, to be replaced by her enemy Michel Temer. The torch was briefly extinguished during violent clashes between demonstrators and police last week in Angra dos Reis, a coastal resort south of Rio.
Sailing’s governing body on Wednesday reversed its ruling on Russian Pavel Sozykin, saying he would now be eligible to compete at the Rio Olympics. World Sailing said that having received additional guidance from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), its board members were unanimous in declaring the athlete free to compete. The body said Sozykin’s entry for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games must still be confirmed by the IOC and the review panel established through the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Two days ahead of the opening ceremony at the Olympics, organisers say that 1.3 million tickets remained unsold, an indication that spectator demand for Rio has lagged behind previous summer Games. As of Friday, 4.8 million tickets for the Games had been sold, out of around 6.1 million tickets on offer, the Rio Organising Committee told Reuters on Wednesday.
Demand has been strong for sports such as basketball and swimming, the committee said. Some 500,000 of the unsold tickets are fo soccer matches. Many of those matches are scheduled to be played in stadiums in other Brazilian cities far from Rio. Tickets for the Rio Games have been available since early 2015, but factors including a sluggish Brazilian economy and concerns about the presence of Zika virus in Brazil may have had an impact on both domestic and international demand. Reigning Olympic and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray will be the flagbearer for Britain at the opening ceremony for the Rio Games, it was confirmed on Wednesday. Murray, who triumphed at Wimbledon for the second time last month and won gold in London four years ago, is the first tennis player to lead Britain into an opening ceremony. “This is my third Olympic Games and it is a very special competition for me. I obviously have great memories of London and I am 100 percent focused on winning here in Rio.
“The privilege of being the flagbearer is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life and will certainly be one of the highlights of my career.” US Secretary of State John Kerry will represent President Barack Obama at the opening ceremony for the Rio Olympics later this week, the White House and State Department said Tuesday. The trip, Kerry’s 112th since taking office, will bring him first to Argentina on Wednesday and Thursday. Kerry will head the US delegation to the Summer Games, the first Olympics in South America. Accompanying him will be several officials and nine-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Spitz.