Belfast Telegraph

Rio Paralympics opening ceremony live: Brazil savouring another opportunity to promote positivity and untapped cultural gems

By Kevin Garside

The Rio Paralympics will kick off at 10.15pm (BST) with a colourful opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium.

Rio's Olympic commentary began to shift towards positive values with the beautifully proportionate opening ceremony, resourceful, inventive and funky.

After the grand scene setters of London and Beijing it felt good to be back on a neighbourhood dance floor. More of the same is promised tonight as Brazil continues its global push to steer the narrative away from the usual suspects; corrupt politicians, bad dudes shooting up in favelas and Zika.

The Paralympics have not been tethered to a negative Russian drug theme, either, since the organisers did the necessaries and imposed a blanket ban on Russia. The scandal has instead focused on classification of impairment, an issue that looks set for an overhaul post games.

Brazil, too, is seeking a similar shift in positioning. It wants the story to be about where it is going rather than where it has been. The hosting of the Olympics and the Paralympics has been about projection and wresting control of the conversation.

Brazilian Tourism Board head, Vinicius Lummertz, was ready for the onslaught of questions about the venal political class, about the near 20 per cent of citizens that live outside the system in favelas, about the Zika threat, but not the first world conceipt that underpinned much of the pre-games script.

"People forget that we were not a democracy until the late 80s," he said.

"We had a military government and a closed economy. In the early 90s international trade was only ten per cent of GNP. It has doubled since then, but compared to more advanced economies we have a long way to go.

"This is not a rich country. We faced a huge economic problems and political crisis, so the Olympics were a huge challenge, but I think we succeeded, with very high approval rates. With the Paralympics I think we are even better placed to succeed."

The complex socio-political dynamic in Brazil is unfailingly highlighted in toxic accounts which, according to Lummertz, get in the way of opportunity. There is, he claims, a great untapped resource in Brazil's history, geography and her people.

"I was in England in the late 70s and early 80s," he added. "People seem to forget the kind of problems in Britain then; industrial strikes, poll tax riots, race riots, and this was in an established democracy.

"It takes time, but with these games we have seen lots of infrastructure gains. Public transportation has improved, major hotels are opening up in Rio. The Rio that we have now is so much better and will improve still more with the right investment.

"This is a huge country with lots of surprising destinations. There is huge potential, too, in the area of culture.

"We have more than 200 historic cities, one of which, Recife in the north, was settled by the Dutch. When they were kicked out in a disagreement with the Portuguese they settled in a place they called New Holland, which became New York. There are many more stories like this to be told. Unfortunately we talk more about Zika."

Over to you Rio, make us smile all over again.

Belfast Telegraph

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