Neymar nails the final penalty kick to win gold

On August 5, 2016, all eyes were on Rio de Janeiro.

Despite all the doomsayers’ diatribes about political corruption, the fears of the zika virus, the filth of Guanabara Bay, and the anemia of the Brazilian economy, the Games went on. And the Games were great!

Anthony Howe's Olympic sun

In the moving opening ceremony, the famed Brazilian love for music and dance were on display. Super model Gisele Bundchen strolled across the field to the tune of The Girl from Ipanema. The honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron was given unexpectedly to Athens marathoner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, whose 2004 Olympic marathon was bizarrely interrupted by a defrocked Irish priest. And the cauldron de Lima lit was stunning, the fire’s light reflected magnificently in a shining, swirling structure of metal places and balls, creating a spectacular golden vision of the sun.

A bright spot for the IOC was highlighting the plight of the global refugee issue by forming an all-refugee team, an excellent idea!

And to be honest, from a sports perspective, if you bring the very best athletes in the world together, the drama of the competition will subsume almost all else (for good and for bad.)

For Brazilians, here were a few of their nation’s most inspirational stories, starting with Neymar’s winning penalty shot that sealed Brazil’s first even Olympic gold in soccer.

Here are a few other amazing stories I covered, particularly from a Asia/Japan perspective:

The Rio Olympics were far from perfect. But those Games a year ago today had its moments, many that will be remembered for decades.

No doubt, more await when we See You in Tokyo!

See you in Tokyo Rio Olympics

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pat-hickey
Pat Hickey

I suppose selling tea wasn’t quite doing it for Minoru Ikeda. This enterprising tea dealer from Utsunomiya, Tochigi was indicted during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for scalping tickets, according to The Japan Times of October 20, 1964.

Ikeda bought the tickets fair and square, 60 through his local Japan Travel Bureau office and through direct mail orders to the Tokyo Olympic Committee. Apparently he pulled in a cool JPY150,000 in profit, re-selling four third -lass track and field tickets for the outrageous price of JPY10,000 each. I actually have a third-class ticket from those Games, and it states the price is JPY1,000. According to the article, Ikeda sold 52 more tickets for another JPY200,000.

But that pales in comparison to the reports that came out of the 2016 Rio Olympics when a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, Pat Hickey, was arrested on August 17, 2016, for ticket touting, or scalping.

Hickey was imprisoned for 11 days in Bangu Prison, and was released, primarily due to the fact that he was a 71-year-old in poor health, and his passport had been taken away. After about 4 months in Brazil, Hickey was allowed to return to Ireland, no longer the head of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), a position he had resigned soon after his arrest.

scalping
The Japan Times, October 20, 1964.

Hickey had been the head of the OCI since 1989 and had apparently ruled Irish Olympics with a firm hand. And as an executive board member of the IOC, Hickey received such benefits as a USD900 per diem during Olympic Games. But that apparently wasn’t enough. Since Hickey apparently he collaborated with the organizations that was responsible for the selling of Olympic tickets in Ireland, he and Kevin Mallon (another person arrested in Rio), had access to the most valuable tickets at the Rio Games, the opening and closing ceremonies.

According to The Guardian, police seized over a thousand such tickets, which would could be sold at exorbitant prices. The article claims that Mallon’s company, THG, was looking to pull in a profit of USD10 million. That is definitely an improvement on JPY200,000, even accounting for inflation!

Hickey, who asserts his innocence in the charges, is awaiting the start of court deliberations on his case in Rio. If found guilty he could face prison time.

carmelo-anthony-favela-2
Carmelo Anthony in Santa Marta, a favela in Rio de Janeiro.

Carmelo Anthony is a New Yorker, now playing for my hometown team, the New York Knicks. I’m proud that he is a Knick, but as I grew up a St Johns Redmen fan, and he led Big East rival Syracuse to an NCAA championship, I wasn’t an immediate fan.

When Anthony joined the Knicks after essentially demanding a trade from Denver, I looked on the deal with tremendous skepticism. The Knicks have floundered in the Carmelo years, although that floundering began way before he arrived. Skepticism has turned to apathy, and my expectations for my Knicks have dropped.

But my respect for Anthony has continued to climb. He has been a proud Olympian, representing the US men’s basketball team a record four times, helping the US to three gold medal championships in the past three Olympics. More importantly, Melo has been willing to speak out on social matters important to him, an uncommon trait for well-paid athletes.

During the Rio Olympics, a day after Ryan Lochte told the world that he and fellow swimming teammates were held up at gunpoint at a Rio gas station, Carmelo Anthony was visiting one of the more notorious favela in Rio, Santa Marta. Favela are where the poorest of the inner city in Brazil live, their lives influenced by the vice of the drug trafficking economy.

Anthony, with a few friends, went with cameras, and without security to hang out with citizens of Santa Marta. It was a couple of days after the USA defeated France by a unexpectedly slim margin, and a day before their opening match in the knockout round with Argentina. The US team’s mission was far from complete, but my guess is that Anthony worked this out with the coach so that he could fulfill a dream to visit a favela. He admitted that he had seen the film, City of God, dozens of times, and as a child of the inner city growing up in Baltimore, he wanted to see what life was like in Santa Marta.

“This was on my bucket list, to be honest with you; specifically to go to the favelas — forever,” said Anthony, staying on a nearby cruise ship with his teammates. “I just always wanted to see and experience that. Growing up in Baltimore, and knowing what that was like, in my own favela, you know what I mean? So I wanted to go and experience that for myself. I wanted to touch that.”

carmelo-anthony-favela

One of the more powerful images in social media during the Rio Olympics was Carmelo Anthony sitting in a plastic chair in the middle of the favela, his blaring red clothes and cap in contrast to the multi-colored canvas of the favela apartments behind him. What he wrote below his Instagram picture was a statement of empathy and ease, one that I’m sure enamored him with many in Brazil.

“I discovered that what most people call creepy, scary, and spooky, I call comfy, cozy, and home.”

This image and statement was in direct contrast to the image painted by Lochte, who reinforced the perception that Rio was a scary, violent place. You can see how people quickly picked up on the contrast between Lochte and Anthony here.

Anthony walked around, played basketball with the neighborhood kids, and brought smiles to people in the favela. I think that when stars combine acts of unexpected kindness with a consistent articulation of their values, you get a more authentic view of them as people. So now I’m glad and proud that Melo is a member of the New York Knicks. There’s more to life than winning championships. (But I wouldn’t mind if he does.)

feral cat in rio
A napping stray cat on the Escadaria Selarón staircase

On September 12, 1964, a month prior to the opening of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Mainichi Daily News published the last of a 15-part UPI series entitled, “Great Cities of the World”. The article was entitled “Rio: The City of Marching For Tomorrow”, a meaningless title really. The theme was a familiar one for emerging markets at the time: a fascinating city in a far-off land that was growing rapidly into prominence.

Below are a few of the highlights from that article about the city of Rio de Janeiro that provide us with hints to what has changed, and what has not over the past 52 years.

The Same

  • Corruption: “Rio is still Brazil’s center of political intrigue and corruption.” The article goes on to state that the laws are made in the recently established government seat, Brasilia, but that “the deals are made in elegant Copacabana Beach apartments owned by leading politicians, or by their mistresses, distant relatives or front men.” For sure, this is still true.
  • Industry: “Rio, outside the big coffee-and-automobile complex of Sao Paulo, has managed to win a positions in the textile, food processing and electronics industries.” Coffee and cars are still big exports for Brazil, as are textiles, electronics, aircraft, iron ore and orange juice.
  • Umbanda: “Umbanda claims 30,000 followers in Rio, but the signs would indicate more.” This uniquely Brazilian religion, a fusion of Roman Catholicism, African traditions, and indigenous American beliefs, is still a viable religion, with estimates of 400,000 followers in Brazil, with many of them likely in Rio.
  • Feral Cats: “No reformer has yet suggested doing away with Rio’s half-wild stray cats, numbering countless thousands, which dominate every park, alley and quiet street and no one is likely to attack them. A lot of Cariocas believe cats have ‘the souls of people.'” Rio, apparently, is still a cat haven.

 

Not the Same

  • Population: The population in 1964 was 3million. Today, Rio is creaking with a population over 11 million.
  • Maracana Stadium: Rio still goes crazy for soccer and plays big games in the Maracana Stadium. However, back in 1964, the stadium held an astounding 230,000 people. After the stadium was renovated and re-opened in 2013, it now seats 78,000.
  • Guanabara Bay: “The sparkling blue beauty of Guanabara Bay…”: That certainly isn’t a phrase bandied about these days.

 

guanabara bay pollution
Guanabara Bay

Always

Fun in the Face of Solemnity and Challenge: As was true in 1964, it is still true today: the symbol of devout Catholic belief, Christ the Redeemer, is seen as a symbol of faith and peace, and at the same time, an expression of sweet cynicism. As the article stated, “‘He’s not giving His blessings,’ Cariocas like to wisecrack. ‘He is shrugging His shoulders.'”

christ the redeemer

Headed to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games? Here’s a post from Cozysweatercafe entitled “The insider’s guide to Rio baby!” The blogger interviews Sulvain Leclerc, a program manager in Sports Relations for the Canadian Olympic Committee. Leclerc had lived in Rio de Janeiro for a few months in 2013. Here are his recommendations for the less-obvious places to go, and things to do in Rio.

  1. Climb all the way to the top of Dos Irmãos for the best point of view of Rio

rio dos irmaos
A view of Rio from Dos Irmãos2.
2. Take the Santa Teresa bonde and explore this hood, its nature, its architecture and its street art

Bonde Santa Tereza
The electric trolley of Santa Teresa

3. Go to Niteroi and go to the Museo Contempora

Niterói Contemporary Art Museum
The Museo Contempora at Niteroi

4. Go to Pedra Bonita for amazing views of Barra da Tijuca

The view of Barra de Tijuca from Pedra Gavea
The view of Barra de Tijuca from Pedra Gavea
5. Go to Urca at Bar Urca and drink beers on the sidewalk and eat a Moqueca in the restaurant

SAMSUNG
Bar Urca
6. Go to a Juice Bar and drink any real juice (Suco)… and try them all: mango, abacaxi, marajuca, etc!

7. Go out in Lapa on a Friday night, this huge sea of people partying outside is spectacular. On the sidewalk, there’s music, food, alcohol. The party is outside and inside in the bars…

the lapa scene
The night scene at Lapa
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes
Rio mayor Eduardo Paes

Of the cities with the highest murder rates in the world, 41 of the top 50 are in Mexico and Latin America. Of those 41, 21 of them are in Brazil. It is both a stunning and unfortunate fact, particularly as Brazil is doing its best to get ready for the biggest sports show in the world – The Summer Olympics.

So by extension, there are concerns regarding crime in Rio de Janeiro.

Top 50 Most Violent Cities by Country_Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

A couple of weeks ago, Australian chef de mission, Kitty Chiller, announced that members of the Australian Olympic squad would not be allowed to visit the favelas “because we could not control visits involving a large number of athletes going to different places at different times.”

While the favelas in Rio, which are communities where the lowest income families often live, are a not-so-uncommon tourist destination, they are also apparently centers for crime: drugs, robberies, murder.

The mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, is doing all he can to fight off this negative perception. “There is a lot of ignorance about Rio and Brazil, a certain drama of how things are,” he said in response to Chiller’s announcement.

The world will come to Rio in August. Brazilians will welcome them with open arms. The first Olympic Games held in South America will be a tremendous event. And then life (and death) will likely go on…

See a previous post called “Life in the Favela: At War with the Pacifying Police

Carnival King Momo, Wilson Dias da Costa Neto, celebrates upon receiving the keys to the city
Carnival King Momo, Wilson Dias da Costa Neto, celebrates upon receiving the keys to the city
  1. Rio is named for a river that doesn’t exist. (Janeiro is January, which is when the Portuguese first arrived in that part of Brazil.)
  2. It was once part of a colony called Antarctic France. (The French apparently got there before the Portuguese.)
  3. The French once held it for ransom. (There be gold and diamonds in them thar hills!)
  4. It served as the capital of the Portuguese Empire for almost seven years.
  5. Its residents might be named for a house, or maybe a fish. (When citizens of Rio go out on the town to sing, you could say “Carioca go ka-ree-oh-kee”.)
  6. Its giant statue of Jesus is struck by lightning several times a year. (What exactly is God trying to say?)

    “Christ the Redeemer” overlooking Rio de Janeiro (© Danny Lehman/Corbis)
  7. For five days a year, the city is run by a mythical jester named King Momo.
  8. It hosted the world’s biggest soccer game.
  9. The city put QR codes in its mosaic sidewalks. (So those pictures of the ground are not accidental.)
  10. Street art is legal there. (Isn’t everything?)
  11. It has a Carmen Miranda Museum. (Now, that’s cool!)

sailing in guanabara bay_AP

The head of sailing’s governing body threatened Saturday to move all Olympic sailing events out of polluted Guanabara Bay unless the water is cleaner and floating rubbish is removed.

http://globalnews.ca/news/2180470/sailing-officials-threatens-to-move-olympic-sailing-from-polluted-bay/