The Olympic Games kick off with the Opening Ceremony on Friday. The Mixed Zone journalist Liz Byrnes is already in Rio de Janeiro, and in an epistle from the buzzing Brazilian city she sets the scene for the global sports festival to come
‘I FEEL LOVE’. So proclaims a banner adorning the Athletes’ Village here in Rio de Janeiro. With its white lettering on a green background, the message stands out among the team flags and banners from countries across the globe.
Team Germany is prominent, the red, black and yellow catching the eye for floor after floor high up in one of the apartment blocks. So, too, does the red and green of Portugal, just weeks after their triumph in football’s European Championship. The solitary flag of Cuba flutters alone but not lonely.
But it is the ‘I FEEL LOVE’ banner that commands attention. Look closer, however, and you can make out less bold lettering with LOVE preceded by an S and followed by the letters NIA. If ever a team deserves a medal for a creative banner, it is Slovenia.
And so the Greatest Show on Earth is almost upon us.
Of course, there are concerns aplenty. There always are at these four-yearly intervals, no matter the venue. In Rio, though, it has not been worries about the weather as in London in 2012 with the doom-mongers predicting a rain-soaked Games. Rather the issues are greater than sport. The Zika virus and its effects will be around for years and, for some, lifetimes. So, too, the doping scandal which means Russia will be noticeable by their not-quite total absence.
On a practical level, poor sanitation is not just about the open-water swimmers shutting their mouths as they plough through the Atlantic. It is an everyday way of life for many.
There have been security fears and here in Rio there is the highly-visible presence of the red lights flashing on police cars and motorbikes. An equally common sight are the convoys of jeeps carrying army personnel. All security forces are armed, rifles to hand and guns strapped around their thighs. The air is criss-crossed by helicopters. More than a dozen made their way over the Olympic Park, reminiscent of the scene in Apocalypse Now. But no sooner did they appear than they were gone.
It would be easy to remain in a bubble, but Rio is one of the world’s great cities, a place full of life being lived by a spectrum of mankind. Go to the Copacabana on the weekend and you will see beach volleyball and foot-volley. Families gathering, tourists wandering and the iconic Sugarloaf in the distance.
Close to Ipanema and Copacabana is the Lagoa where the rowing and canoe sprint will take place with Christ the Redeemer, arms outstretched, perched on top of a surrounding hill. At the weekend it is a magnet for tourists and locals alike. Some sit at one of the cafes watching the world go by. Cyclists vie with walkers on the eight-kilometre path around the lake with runners of all ages, shapes and sizes also taking a chance.
This being Brazil, not surprisingly, football is everywhere. It could be a young child playing alone on a street or the wall-to-wall TV screens in bars and restaurants commanding all eyes. For once, there are few English Premier League shirts to be seen. In fact, the only ones I have spotted have been Arsenal. Instead, it is the red and black of local club Flamengo that is most visible. And a bit of Barcelona, too.
Then there is the music. Not intrusive but rather as a constant backdrop. Mind you, dropping into a bar where a Brazilian band did a cover of The Smiths’ This Charming Man was rather other worldly. And boy do they like to dance.
As I write, thousands are pouring into the city. Teams, officials, journalists, spectators. They all add another layer to what is a city of exuberance, life and fluidity. Here we go!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liz Byrnes. After an early career in PR and marketing, Liz changed her focus to what she had always really wanted and re-trained as a journalist in Sheffield. She spent 12 years at PA where she covered football, athletics and swimming before going freelance in January 2014. She now works for a number of organisations including The Guardian, BBC, Sheffield Star, Wardles, SwimVortex, AFP and Arena. Liz’s latest articles