Rio de Janeiro, Aug 6 (IANS) With a glittering ceremony incorporating Brazil’s popular music forms of samba, bossa nova and hip-hop, its diverse but vibrant history, a commitment to the environment and supermodel Giselle Bundchen making the last but longest catwalk of her career, the 31st Olympics got underway here late Friday.
Saying Rio — hosting the first Games in South America — is ready to make history, President of the 2016 Games, Carlos Nuzman, promised to deliver a great experience and turn dreams into reality.
While Kosovo and South Sudan made their Olympic debut, refugees were for the first time recognised as a separate team with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, saying: “We do not just tolerate diversity, but welcome it as an enrichment to our unity.” Brazil’s Acting President Michel Temer then declared the Games open before to a capacity crowd at the famed Maracana Stadium.
An Olympic Laurel, a special recognition, was given to Kipchoge Keino, chairman of the Kenyan Olympic committee for his contribution to education, development and the Games.
The theme of the Olympic Games ceremony called on people to replant and save the planet.
“It’s not enough to stop harming the planet, it is time to begin healing it,” said the literature explaining the opening ceremony, saying promoting world peace is the basis of the Olympic spirit.
Samba drums and energetic dancing ushered in the Games, with Brazil in a mood to throw a great party in the next 17 days, overlooking months of negative news and troubles which at times threatened to derail the biggest sporting show on Earth.
Preparation problems and political upheaval have marked the run-up to the Games, but on its opening day Brazilians were celebrating, aiming to make the Olympics a success. Fireworks at the end lighted up the spirits of those gathered to witness the show.
Temer was not introduced in the beginning though there was a mention. President Dilma Rousseff was suspended following moves to impeach her by the legislators over a massive accounting scandal.
Bach alluded to the troubles by saying, “You have managed this at a very difficult time in Brazilian history.”
The three-and-a-half hour ceremony, which opened at 8.00 p.m. Brazilian time (4.30 a.m. IST), reproduced patterns created by local artist Athos Bulcao through volunteers who turned their metallic paper into exotic shapes depicting what the organisers said where the indigenous geometry, African patterns and traditional Portuguese tile design.
Soon the floor of the large stadium, which housed over 60,000 people, was covered with shapes from sea and forests, reminding the packed audience of the need to conserve.
It harked back to a time when Brazil was entirely covered by forests. Sea ice melt and impact of climate change came back in the presentation with hope being depicted in the greening of the cities and rural areas by plantation of seeds by volunteers.
Right till the end, when the green Olympic rings were revealed by mirror-hugging volunteers, the green theme carried on.
The greenery soon enough gave way to geometric patterns to show that nature had been taken over by the geometry of agriculture, mining, roads and city plans — not something unique to Brazil but a pattern seen the world over.
The patterns and the people also pointed to the birth of a nation forged from the encounter of natives, Europeans and Africans which also absorbed many waves of migration, including those from the Middle East and Asia.
Then came Gisele Bundchen, to a roaring ovation, in her last catwalk to the strains of iconic song “Garrota de Ipanema” (The Girl from Ipanema)” as she crossed the length of the stadium in a shimmering, trailing dress, closing her career as the world’s best-known model, who had launched dozens of brands and whose face graced the covers of the top fashion magazines around the world.
Popular songs and music often accompanied the performance on the ground. The rhythm and songs from the most underprivileged sections of the country, made famous by the culture coming out of its favelas or urban slums, also found a pride of place as did its raps and the dance which had taken the country by storm.
The organisers said they had jettisoned the high-tech approach and dependence on electronic and mechanatronic effects, changing the paradigm of Olympic ceremonies with an “analogue inventiveness” making the most of the “low-tech spirit, the richness of Brazilian popular culture and the energy and passion of thousands of volunteers”.
“You can do much more with heart, without spending,” well-known film director Fernando Meirelles, who was one of the ceremony’s creative directors, told the media earlier, mentioning that the budget was “far less than” what had been spent at London in 2012 and Beijing in 2008.
The presentation was followed by the tribute to the athletes who have come from 207 nations to participate in the most challenging arena of human endurance and skill.
They came for the march past in their national dresses or in bright colours, led by a tricycle-riding name-board bearers carrying plants to underline the theme of bio-diversity and saving the planet before a distinguished audience including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry, French President Francois Hollande, Princess Anne of Britain and Qatari Prince, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
A boy or a girl also accompanied the flag-bearers of each nation with a sapling in hand.
The loudest and longest public ovation, a standing tribute, was reserved for the Brazilian contingent, of course. It came last in the march past being the host nation, as is the tradition. Portugal got the next largest roar.
The Refugee Olympic team too got major applause. As many as 80 of the 207 delegations were led by female athletes
Most of the athletes from India came for the ceremony except for a handful who had a game the next day, dressed in blue with a touch of yellow.
Abhinav Bindra, the Olympic champion shooter, was the flag bearer for India. Over 20 officials also joined the contingent.
Earlier, before the formal beginning of the ceremony, in a possible tribute to Indian ethos, presenters paid homage to “love and compassion” by reciting Om repeatedly as the stands were filling up.
The capacity crowd, which had been ushered in a largely chaotic manner, spent the remaining time creating Mexican waves and shouting slogans while lighting up their mobile phones as lights dimmed across the stadium on cue from the interim presenters on the ground.
(Hardev Sanotra can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)