Wednesday, April 24

Brazil jubilant with Olympic opportunity

Emilio Vieira’s eyes lit up as if a torch had been ignited behind his face like a jack-o’-lantern.

The joy expressed by the junior water polo player from Brazil served as a microcosm for the feelings of an entire nation, one that has shaken in jubilation ever since it was announced last Friday that the 2016 Summer Olympics has been awarded to Rio de Janeiro. With the pronouncement, the Olympiad will run, swim, ride and jump its way to South America for the first time.

“It’s just an amazing opportunity for all of Brazil,” Vieira said. “Even beyond the sporting events, it gives the whole infrastructure of the country a chance to be reborn.”

Vieira was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and played water polo for Brazil’s top club sports program, Esporte Clube Pinheiros, in Sao Paulo. With four years of service on the junior national team under his belt, Vieira enrolled at Golden West Junior College in Huntington Beach and played there for two years before transferring to UCLA this season.

The Olympics is a dream come true for young Brazilians like Vieira, who will see their country host the FIFA World Cup in 2014 before welcoming the sporting smorgasbord of Olympic competition two summers later. While roughly 190 million Brazilians exult in the honor bestowed upon their homeland, the question arises, like it must with nearly every other host (see: 2008, Beijing) as to whether the nation can bear the brunt of Olympia.

The primary argument in the International Olympic Committee awarding the 2016 Olympic Games to Rio de Janeiro over Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago was the fact that South America has never hosted an Olympics. While it’s certainly true that the world’s fourth largest continent should be a crucial element of a global entity like the Olympics, that shouldn’t necessarily translate to an opportunity to host the games. If the IOC was guilt-tripped into awarding the Olympics to an overlooked region, that is a condemnable way of conducting the selection process.

There is no shortage of issues that Brazil must address in the next seven years. The preparation that the country will have to undergo to be ready to host will be staggering: problems with crime, the economy, housing, transportation and construction are rampant. It’s true that each host must deal with a hodgepodge of social issues leading up to an Olympics, but Brazil’s situation and its inexperience in hosting such an enormous athletic spectacle make these circumstances particularly unique.

Beijing put on an extravaganza in 2008, but its state-of-the-art venues like the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube are now no more than not-so-subtle reminders that the games failed to stimulate a floundering city.

One of the five Olympic rings signifies the Americas as a whole, and now that ring is fully represented. Another of the five rings stands for Africa, the other struggling continent that has yet to host an Olympic Games.

However, South Africa will host the 2010 World Cup, a scenario that could prove to be an important rehearsal for a potential African Olympic bid. With the 2014 World Cup in its grasp, Brazil could have gone about things in a similar fashion and held off on its 2016 bid to see how the nation handled the World Cup.

For now, the people of Brazil can celebrate the spectacle. For a country that has long been primarily known as a soccer juggernaut, the automatic bids awarded to a host country’s athletes should help boost the all-around nature of Brazil’s sports program. For one water polo player, playing in the Olympics in his home country is an enticing, albeit still uncertain, dream.

“2016 is a long way off,” Vieira said with a laugh. “It would be amazing to be able to play in those Olympics but there’s a lot to do between now and then. I really have no idea what will happen.”

He’s not the only one wondering.

If you carry a torch for him, e-mail Eshoff at [email protected]

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