Will Rio Be Ready?
With two world events scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2014 and 2016, will the city really be ready for the world’s spotlight? At a very fleetingly first glance, I believe the basics are there, but the infrastructure has to be polished and refined. Rio has always been always an exotic place on my bucket list and It took me some 60+ years to finally get down to Brazil’s former capital, probably the most picturesque and most visited city in South America.
Three years ago, I went on my first business trip to Rio for an evening event staged by British Airways to celebrate the launch of their Rio-London Heathrow non-stop service; it was a soiree for travel agents and media in a beachfront hotel in Copacabana. I can’t remember where it was exactly, the weather was so lousy and I didn’t know the city from Adam.
I arrived in the afternoon amidst pouring rain and very low, gloomy clouds and never saw any of the mountains, parks or even favelas that Rio is famous for. That evening, the event went swimmingly well (although it rained all night) and the next morning, still in the rain and fog, we drove back to the the airport for our flight to Buenos Aires, and another event. All I ever saw and remembered of Rio was the posh, very woodsy inside of the hotel and the gorgeous infinity pool on the roof which we, of course, couldn’t really enjoy because of the torrential downpours.
That was my first experience of Rio. Nothing held against Rio – just the non-cooperative weather.
Fast forward to July, this year. A very good friend and public relations colleague called me to invite me to Rio to see and experience BRITE – Brazil International Tourism Exchange – show and exhibition, a travel show that combines food and indigenous handicrafts with tourism and tours throughout Brazil.
The BRITE Expo featured hundreds of shopkeepers, restauranteurs, and craftsmen that have their booths, selling or giving away samples of their own grown products. Nearby were hundreds of tour operators, hoteliers and travel agents pitching their products and services to many visiting tour wholesalers and travel agents from Europe, the Middle East, India, the Far East and North America. It reminded me of the many years I attended ASTA and NBTA (now GBTA) conventions. Always great for networking, seeing old friends, and actually doing some business.
My main objective in traveling the 10 hours south to Rio – mind you, I was very fortunate to have flown roundtrip on two very comfortable flights aboard American Airlines – was to visit BRITE, but also to see and tour the World Cup site for 2014 and the Olympic and Paralympic Games’ sites that would be the focus of the world in August 2016.
Earlier this year, I visited Beijing and walked throughout the 2008 Olympic venue, and this past August I was very fortunate indeed to have attended the London games for two days. London had accomplished a spectacular job in preparing for the games, and despite dire predictions of doom and gloom, the British, in a fashion as only the Brits can do, pulled it all off beautifully, and on a score of one to ten, they achieved a 20 in my book!
Before flying to Brazil, I had studied the rio2106 web site where one can get a glimpse of what is supposed to happen and where it’s all supposed to be situated four years from now.
For the games venues , Rio has four dedicated Olympic zones in which the 2016 summer games will occur: Barra, Copacabana, Deodoro and Maracanã.
The Maracanã zone is the site of Rio’s huge, world renown football stadium, which currently seats well over 100,000. The plan is to down-size to about 90,000 spectators and make the seats closer to the athletic field giving everyone a feeling of closeness and making the visual experience a lot more real – no moving dots or ants in the far distance.
As an aside, the stadium also will host the final game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup competition. Adjacent to the stadium, there is the smaller, 45,000 seat, João Havelange stadium, which also will host various Olympic events.
For Summer 2016, the larger stadium, obviously holding the most spectators, will host the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies. Beyond the forecasted glamorous ceremonies, Maracanã also will host the Olympic and Paralympic events of archery and athletics, plus singular Olympic events of football, rugby and volleyball.
In the Barra zone, located to the south of the more famous beach areas (Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana) and center of Rio, the zone will see the construction of a variety of new sports specific buildings which will house numerous events, plus in the region is the Reserva Marapendi Golf Course which will play host to the first Olympic golf event in 112 years.
Golf, as an Olympic sport, was last played at the in the St. Louis, Missouri, games of 1904 (and also played in the games of 1900 staged at Paris). In 2009, golf was voted to be re-adopted as an official Olympic sport for the 2016 games.
Aside from golf, the various Barra venues will play host to basketball, judo, taekwondo, wrestling (both freestyle and Greco-Roman), handball, tennis, cycling,swimming, diving, trampoline and the various forms of artistic and rhythmic gymnastics.
For the Paralympics events, the Barra zone will host wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, judo, bocci, volleyball(sitting), goal ball, wheelchair tennis, cycling and water polo.
The Copacabana beach area will be the site of the following Olympic sports: beach volleyball, canoe sprints, road cycling, rowing, sailing, marathon swimming, race walking and the triathlon. For the Paralympics, Copacabana will host athletics (marathon), road cycling, canoe, para triathlon, rowing and sailing.
The western region of Rio that will host events is Deodoro and its Olympic sports will include: all the equestrian events, shooting, field hockey, fencing, modern pentathlon, mountain bike cycling, BMX cycling and the canoe-kayak slaloms. For the Paralympics, Deodoro will host equestrian, shooting, football 5-a-side, football 7-a-side and wheelchair fencing.
The summer games of 2016 are still four years away, but the city of Rio has a mountainous load of work to do in refining its traffic patterns on its elevated freeways and through the tunnels and main thoroughfares. Main roads connecting the beach areas and Olympic zones will have to be widened and smoothed out, and traffic signals will have to be adjusted during peak times of the day or evening, thus ensuring a smooth flow of traffic to and from the various venues. Traffic flow will be particularly crucial during event times; there may be designated Olympic lanes as there were in London, but this has not yet been determined.
There are two main subway lines in Rio, one connecting the north to the center of the city and the other connecting the center to Ipanema and the west. A new extension to Barra in the south is under construction and it is is too early to say whether it will be completed by 2016. The lines are expected to play an integral part of moving sports fans from one zone venue to another.
There are tons of hotels in Rio, but will there be sufficient rooms to house all the visitors to the games? Seemingly the answer is yes, and one added plus will be the expansion and modernization of the marine port and dock area enabling cruise ships to anchor during the games. This will afford cruise passengers and ship’s crew the opportunity to alight into the city for pleasure as well to visit any of the sporting venues. For that matter, visitors flying to Rio might be able to book themselves on a ship during the ship’s Rio stay; a slightly off-beat variation to the more conventional land-locked hotel scene.
Traveling to Rio, a water-born arrival would be a most enjoyable adventure if one has the time and inclination for cruising. It is, in fact, a most relaxing and pleasurable mode of travel, waves and high seas aside.
For most people, time will be of the essence and flying is the only viable option. Rio is nine hours, non-stop, from New York, eight hours, non-stop, from Miami and 10 hours, non-stop, from Dallas/Ft. Worth or Houston. Unfortunately no commercial airline presently operates the 12 hour non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Rio. West coast originating travelers must connect over their selection of hub cities.
American Airlines operates the most flights of any airline between Brazil and the USA, flying to seven Brazilian cities from Miami, with multiple daily services to Sao Paulo and Rio from Miami and New York’s JFK International Airport. Brazilian cities served from American Airline’s Miami hub are Brasilia, Recife, Manaus. Bahia and Minas Gerais. Sao Paulo also is accessible via non-stop AA flights from Dallas/Fort Worth.
Delta, United and US Airways also operate between Rio and their respective USA hubs.
However one arrives at Rio, the topography and lay of the land will so excite the visual and sensory neurons that Rio will be indelibly stamped into one’s memory forever. The Olympic and World Cup experience should be of equal stature. With Brazilian home-grown expertise, talent and luck, and perhaps the help of Christ The Redeemer who majestically rules atop Corcovado Mountain, the city and state of Rio will play host to the world in 2014 and 2016 and, hopefully, produce the most evocative sporting successes ever.