(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis sent a tweet on Friday saying: “Good luck to the athletes at Rio 2016: May you always be messengers of goodwill and true sporting spirit,” just hours before the official opening of the summer Olympics in the Brazilian city.
Over ten thousand athletes are taking part in the Rio Olympics over the next 17 days, coming from more than 200 countries across the world.
So, what are the feelings among the people of the host nation as it prepared to host this global sporting bonanza? Vatican Radio spoke to Brazil’s ambassador to Italy, Ricardo Neiva Tavares to find out.
Ambassador Tavares described the staging of the Olympics as an event of great importance for his nation that comes after years of preparations. He noted that the city had been able to reduce its predicted budget for the cost of building the infrastructure and preparing for the Rio Games which, he said, are costing far less than the previous Olympics in London.
“We revitalized the city… Rio has been transformed for the better,” he said.
Some examples of this were the improvements to public transport including a new metro line and the planting of 15,000 new trees and the opening of two new museums. Ambassador Tavares said changes like this will be “lasting” ones and will directly benefit the city’s residents in the future.
Asked about the security risk during the staging of the Olympics, the Brazilian Ambassador said that the authorities had done “everything possible” to minimize this threat with 80,000 police and troops involved in the security operation. He also said Brazil was exchanging intelligence date on a daily basis with around 60 different countries but did concede that nobody can totally eliminate "100 percent" any potential security risks in these situations.
The run up to the Rio Olympics saw many concerns expressed about the threat to health posed by the Zika virus transmitted by mosquitoes, so is there cause for concern on this front? According to Ambassador Tavares there was “a lot of exaggeration” when it came to the threat posed by the Zika virus. He pointed out that it is currently winter time in Rio and therefore the threat posed by these mosquitoes in his view is “extremely low.”
Turning next to the question of Brazil’s troubled economy, the ambassador said although his nation had experienced two years of recession most economic data predicted Brazil experiencing a year of economic growth once more in 2017. He also welcomed Pope Francis’ message of encouragement to Brazil and its people ahead of the games. Noting that Brazil is the nation with the largest Catholic community in the world, Ambassador Tavares said it also had a long history of religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence between its many different ethnic and religious groups. It’s a “melting pot,” he said and Brazilians are very proud of this tolerance where “people of different faiths live side by side.”