Olympics give faded Rio shot at rebirth

RIO DE JANEIRO, (Reuters) – Rio de Janeiro’s 2016  Olympics has raised the tantalizing prospect that Brazil’s  faded former capital, known for its beauty and high crime, will  be rejuvenated into a modern, thriving city.
Blessed with jaw-dropping natural wonders and passionate  people, the Carnival city is in line for a multibillion-dollar  Olympic overhaul that supporters say will unclog its transport  system, clean up the environment and boost public services.
Rio’s slick Olympic campaign promised world-class sports  facilities, a doubling of the beachside city’s hotel capacity,  and a rejuvenation of its dilapidated port area and the  historic city center. After the International Olympic Committee  awarded Rio the Games on Friday, newspapers and many residents  voiced hope that the city could emulate Spain’s Barcelona,  which experienced a cultural and economic renaissance after it  hosted the 1992 Olympics.
“It is something able to rival the arrival of the  Portuguese royal family in 1808 in terms of the benefits it can  bring for the economy, social life, security, politics, public  administration and other areas,” O Globo newspaper said in an  editorial.
The arrival of the royal family as they fled Napoleon’s  invasions in Europe heralded Rio’s transformation into a major  city and the center of the Portuguese empire.
The city of 6 million has mostly been in decline since  1960, when the federal capital shifted to Brasilia, with its  image increasingly stained by the poverty and drug violence of  its slums and the brutality of its security forces.
It has shown signs of a revival in recent years, helped by  Brazil’s economic strength, but has remained overshadowed by  financial capital Sao Paulo and has failed to shake off its  reputation for decadence and high crime.

Support and skepticism
Surveys have shown strong support among Rio residents for  the 2016 Games, and the bid organizers argued that the event  could transform the city.
But many residents are skeptical and fret that preparations  for the event could be plagued by corruption.
“There will have to be a major control of the resources by  the international and Brazilian (Olympics) organizations. If  not, we will face embarrassment,” said Marcos dos Santos, a  39-year-old trainer of blind athletes in Rio.
The experience of the 2007 Pan-American Games in Rio  inspires little confidence that promises will be kept.
Although the budget for that event more than tripled, much  of the pledged infrastructure was never built and it did not  provide the economic windfall that residents had expected.
The O Globo editorial said Rio has only seven years to do  what had not been done in 50, calling for “a culture of extreme  transparency” in spending decisions, using the Internet to  solicit public input and feedback.
Efforts to change Rio could also be stymied by its  widespread poverty, embodied in the more than 1,000 slums that  run through the city and occupy many hillsides.
For the first time in modern history, the IOC selected a  host city that has large areas outside state control, dominated  by heavily armed drug gangs or militias made up of off-duty  police officers and firefighters.
Last year, a U.N. report described the Rio police’s violent  invasions of slums as “murderous and self-defeating.” Rio state  recorded 5,717 murders last year.
“Rio is a city that lost many things over its history,” an  overjoyed, tearful President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said  after Friday’s announcement, adding that Rio’s people now had  the chance to show the world how “marvelous” they are.

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