Olympic Games get underway in Rio amid tight security

Brazil Soldiers

Brazil Soldiers

Police in Brazil have increased security across the country ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, FRANCE 24 reports.

With many of the Games’ 11,000 athletes and dozens of heads of state in attendance, the much-hyped grand opening ceremony will be the first major test of Rio’s preparedness.

More than 80,000 police and soldiers will patrol the streets of Rio alone for the duration of the Games, and have also been carrying out large-scale simulated counter-terrorism exercises in preparation for the sporting event.

Security challenges in the sprawling beachside city are at the forefront of many people’s minds, not only because of Rio’s decades-old reputation for violent street crime, but also due to the recent spate of deadly terrorist attacks across the globe.

“Rio has specific crime and security problems,” a Rio police spokesman told FRANCE 24. “It’s a huge city and we’re working with foreign intelligence services. What’s important is we’re preparing for all the different scenarios we could face – to counter all criminal or terrorist threats.”

Bitterly divided country

The country has been beset by problems in the build-up to the Games.

Protests flared during the Olympic torches’ traditional journey across Brazil due to outrage at the Games $12 billion price tag at a time of high unemployment, rising crime and cutbacks on health and education spending.

Scenes of riot police using stun grenades and tear gas to clear protesters from the torch’s path on Wednesday fuelled complaints that the Games had failed to reach the country’s poor.

The country’s political crisis could also crash the usual party atmosphere of the Olympics. In a bitterly divided country, protesters are encouraging spectators to boo interim President Michel Temer who is set to officially open the Games. Temer took over as president after the Senate voted that leftist leader Dilma Rousseff should face an impeachment hearing this month for breaking budget laws.

In a statement released on Friday, Temer appealed to his countrymen to make the global celebration of sport a moment of “international unity and national reconciliation”.

Economy to hit opening ceremony?

In what organisers have called a low-tech ceremony constrained by the floundering economy, Brazil has stated it will showcase the natural and cultural treasures of the diverse nation.

Samba, carnival and the world-famous Brazilian party spirit are expected to feature heavily in the three-hour ceremony, along with a strong environmental message.

One of the most anticipated moments will be seeing which famous Brazilian will light the Olympic cauldron.

Brazilian football legend Pele announced on Friday that he would not be lighting the Olympic flame due to poor health.

Pele apologised for disappointing Brazilians and said, “as a Brazilian, I ask God to bless all who participate in this event.”