Thursday, 8th June 2023

Stay away from Brazil, Rivaldo warns visitors ahead Rio Olympics

Some tourists gathered along a winding path here on a Thursday in early May, watching the waves from the Atlantic, hoping for a big one. The surf was so high that red flags ...


‘Things are getting uglier here every day’

Some tourists gathered along a winding path here on a Thursday in early May, watching the waves from the Atlantic, hoping for a big one. The surf was so high that red flags were planted on the beach below, so even the cariocas – the locals – stayed on the sand. It was only a couple of weeks ago that one of the waves leapt up to a newly built portion of this path, and crumpled it like a wet cracker.

At least two people died; their bodies were fished out of the surf by helicopters and laid onto the beach below.

The tourists hung out near a food cart with a bright umbrella, and the owner stepped outside and got a visitor’s attention. He gestured with his hand in an up-and-over motion.

It was clear what he meant: every now and then a wave crashed over the ledge, and where the tourists were standing wasn’t quite safe. He returned to work; the tourists stayed where they were. The waves kept coming, higher and higher.

Brazil is a precarious place these days.

“Things are getting uglier here every day,” Brazilian soccer star Rivaldo wrote on his Instagram account Sunday. “I advise everyone with plans to visit Brazil for the Olympics in Rio – to stay home. You’ll be putting your life at risk here. … Only God can change the situation in our Brazil.”

The situation in Brazil right now looks like this: The economy is crashing and no one knows quite what to do about it. The Zika virus has caused paralysis and harrowing birth defects. The Olympics are less than three months away and that will bring security concerns. It will also bring some embarrassment, as the local Guanabara Bay is filthy and rancid. The beach surrounding it has no people, but rather empty cans and vials and diapers. It was supposed to be cleaned; it might never be cleaned.

Perhaps most troubling of all: an impeachment process in the midst of a corruption crisis leaves Brazil’s political future completely uncertain. Plan A has failed and there is no Plan B. When the Olympic flame arrived here on May 3, it was met by dueling protests – one side against a “coup” and another in favor of impeachment.

A schoolteacher who watched the torch relay voiced a common wish: new elections. But who is worthy to win? No one has inspired any trust. The most popular politician is someone nicknamed “Tiririca.” He’s a professional clown. His campaign slogan was, “It can’t get any worse.”
It feels like it will only get worse.

Each of the troubles facing this city and this country seems to go back to a centuries-old interaction between man and nature. Whether it’s the mosquitos or the bay or the cycling path, Rio is the perpetual collision of the forces we apply and the forces applied upon us.

Whether it was the coffee industry or the gold rush, there has always been a push and pull, nature subdued and then nature subduing. An enormous rubber boom in the Amazon 100 years ago brought prosperity and then, when it petered out, poverty. “Brazil,” after all, is named after a type of wood from a tree that was nearly rendered extinct because of man’s thirst to cut it down.
In nearby Barra, the new Olympic venues sit on swampland, and a two-minute drive from the mammoth sports complexes puts you in what looks like a rainforest. The athletes, when they arrive, will notice the beauty of the place but also the acrid smell of the marsh. Nature is never going to let go, despite all the cranes and backhoes and dirt trucks. And no matter who is the next president or what he or she promises, a lot of the future of this nation will rest on the ability to harvest what’s in the ground or under the sea.

Depending on the day or the year or the decade, man is either bold or arrogant to push back. The collapse of the $12 million cycling path brought a harsher spotlight on the rush to build that project and others, including a new roadway toward the Olympic venues in Barra. What else in Rio is vulnerable to waves or weather?

Yet there are other works here that speak to the power of man. There’s a mammoth cement shelf up on a mountain, holding up a chunk of rock that looks primed to fall and cause major damage to the downtown. From the city below, it looks incredible, and yet it protects people to such an extent that they probably never notice it.

The gondola to Sugarloaf and the tunnels between neighborhoods and even the Christ the Redeemer statue are other instances – feats of engineering and sheer will. The venues, though they may end up being detested, are still triumphs.

When the Games start, storylines will emerge: someone breaks a record, someone fails a drug test, someone showboats, someone cries. The drama keeps us interested, no matter what the host city. But before the Olympics were about Wheaties boxes, they were about collisions: man against nature. How fast can a man swim? How high can he jump? How far could he throw a stick or a ball? What can a man or a woman overcome?

This is the Olympic story and it’s also Rio’s story. There are limits and we test them. When we fail, we feel overwhelmed and weak. When we succeed, we feel invincible. This city has felt both extremes, exemplified both extremes. It has harnessed nature and has been overmatched by it. This will be the first time South America has hosted the Games, and yet they have been here all along.

Nothing is ever guaranteed in this precarious place. Yet still we will visit, and still we will gather at the precipice to watch.
• Culled from

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