Rio 2016: What Did We Learn From the Olympics Opening Ceremony?

The Rio Olympics opening ceremony.
Artists perform during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Maracana stadium, Rio de Janeiro, August 5. Brazil put on a show at a fraction of the price of London 2012. Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty

Amid doping scandals and political problems, Brazil delivered its Olympic opening ceremony in style on Friday evening.

Rio provided fewer memorable moments than London, fewer pyrotechnics than Beijing. But there was plenty here to celebrate regardless. Here are four conclusions to take from the four-hour event.

Brazil delivers an understated party

It wasn't London—but then, at a fraction of the cost, it was never going to be. Brazil delivered an understated party, replete with Parkour and dancing, and ending on a serious message about the threat of global warming and environmental destruction to Brazil.

Where London had surprises designed to put a smile on the face—who could forget Elizabeth II and Daniel Craig as James Bond appear to leap from a helicopter?—here there were fewer standout moments.

Yes, there was a carnival atmosphere and Brazil's most-famous supermodel, Gisele Bundchen walked her last catwalk, but perhaps, probably, the intensely personal nature of these opening ceremonies means they will always have more of an effect on the host nation.

Enthusiastic welcomes given to the refugee team and the host nation's athletes who entered towards the end showed the crowd had the energy to last.

In the end—thankfully or otherwise for Brazil—posterity will judge these Games for things other and more important than the curtain-call.

Remember, this is all about the athletes

Strangely, one of the most affecting parts was one that is complained about most often. To get all of the athletes from every country into Rio's Maracanã stadium took roughly an hour and 50 minutes; it is, to put it politely, often stultifying viewing.

But to witness the unabashed joy on Rafael Nadal's face as he carried the flag for Spain was to understand a simple fact easily forgotten amid the pyrotechnics. What matters here are the athletes, and, despite multiple crises, the Olympics still matter to them above all.

Perhaps Andy Murray was being more than just polite when he said, prior to the opening ceremony, that carrying the flag for Great Britain was the pinnacle of his career.

Political problems bubble beneath the surface

Of course, behind the fantasy, reality dances morbidly. IOC President Thomas Bach gained a decent smattering of applause as he was brought into the stadium on Friday night. But interim Brazilian president Michel Temer skipped the traditional introduction of the leader, over worries that he would be booed by the 60,000-strong crowd — concerns that proved accurate when he finally declared the Games open near the end.

Even before the ceremony started, reports filtered through that an unnamed Greek athlete had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. We may not even be at the right quota of athletes at the Games, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling that the IOC's blanket ban on Russian athletes with previous doping convictions is unenforceable.

And this is not to speak of Zika fears, construction issues and the water quality—athletes competing in open-water events have been told to keep their heads above the water line; tricky for the marathon swimmers who will have to do so for 10 kilometers.

All the pretty colors in the world, all the perky music cannot mask the problems ready to dog these Games.

Why not just scrap the opening ceremony?

Save money in the process, and begin instead with some athletics, perhaps a 100-meter heat or two. That would be a way to get the Games' biggest star onto the stage immediately—Usain Bolt stayed away from the opening ceremony.

The FIFA World Cup, the globe's second-biggest sporting event, has a brief opening ceremony before a match on opening night. Surely, amid the bloated ceremonials, a space could be found for, you know, some actual sport.

Then the crowd—and the worldwide television audience—would get a snazzy party and a choice reminder of what the Games are really all about. Surely no one would lose out were said party curtailed, just a touch.

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

About the writer

Sportswriter at Newsweek.

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