There is a long-standing joke about Brazil and its reputation as an emerging political and economic force in the world: “Brazil is the country of the future … and always will be.”
That’s why the 2016 Summer Olympics are so crucial not only to the host city of Rio de Janeiro but also to the nation and the region.
With international media gathered here and billions watching on television, there is much at stake over the next 17 days.
“Will Brazil be recognized as a country ready to make its mark?” asked Lowell Gustafson, a humanities and social sciences professor at Villanova University. “Or will it be recognized for overreaching and sliding back into this Third-World status?”
The answer remains in doubt given a litany of setbacks Brazil has suffered. There has been a historic recession and political upheaval. In Rio, water pollution, civic unrest and the outbreak of the Zika virus have been persistent concerns.
Two years ago, a top International Olympic Committee official called preparations for these Games “the worst” he had ever seen and, for the first time, the organization sent a team of experts to monitor the buildup.
As Friday’s opening ceremony draws near, Brazilians are feeling the pressure.
“It is not only the country that organizes the Games, but all the regions around will have the legacy,” said Carlos Nuzman, president of the Rio 2016 committee. “It is very, very important to show the capacity we have to deliver.”
When the IOC voted to select Rio as a host in 2009 — sending the Games to South America for the first time — Brazil had a booming economy and was considered a model for emerging nations. As an agricultural superpower and natural-resources giant, the country was shipping vast quantities of commodities to China and attracting interest from international investors.
This economic success helped tens of millions of citizens rise out of poverty.
The situation in Brazil has turned dark as a downturn in commodities and oil prices has fueled the worst recession in perhaps a century. A recent scandal has implicated much of the country’s business and political elite in a multi-billion-dollar corruption scheme.
Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the charismatic leader who helped win the Olympic bid, could be arrested during the Games. His successor, Dilma Rousseff, faces an impeachment trial.