The carnival capital of Rio de Janeiro will host a glittering Olympics opening ceremony party on Saturday (AEST), hoping to draw a line under a turbulent seven-year build-up dogged by recession, drugs scandals, crime and infrastructure stumbles.
The iconic Maracana Stadium will host a pulsating gathering for more than 70,000 fans, 10,400 athletes and dozens of world leaders as the first Olympics to be staged in South America gets under way.
The ceremony in the teeming Brazilian city sets off two weeks of sporting excellence and drama featuring the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps that will wrap up on August 21.
Yet the giddy euphoria that invariably accompanies the opening of an Olympic Games has been notably absent as Brazil grapples with a tanking economy and a grim litany of social problems
In what organisers have called a low-tech ceremony, Brazil will showcase its natural treasures and the cultural riches created by one of the world’s most diverse nations.
Samba, Carnival and the famously fun Brazilian spirit are expected to play heavily into the three-hour ceremony, as will a call to save the planet from climate change.
One of the most anticipated moments will be seeing which famous Brazilian will light the Olympic cauldron. The odds-on favourite is soccer legend Pele.
Spokesmen for Pele said he had received the green light from his sponsors and doctor, but the 75-year-old was waiting to see if he felt well enough.
Organisers hope the bright lights and thumping rhythms of Friday’s samba spectacular at the Maracana can brighten the mood throughout the nation.
“I hope the opening ceremony can be a kind of anti-depressant for Brazil,” said one of the show’s creative directors, the acclaimed City of God film-maker Fernando Meirelles.
The ceremony would craft a message of tolerance and care for the environment to a troubled planet, Meirelles said.
“The world is very tense,” the director added, citing the rise of US presidential contender Donald Trump and Britain’s recent shock decision to leave the European Union. “The whole world feels this tension.”
Only 103 of Australia’s 421-strong team will march in the Parade of Nations at Rio’s, which Chef de mission Kitty Chiller has defended considering how many Australians will be competing the next day.
Rio’s Under Secretary of Public Safety Edval Novaes has labelled the Games its largest security operation in history, with 80,000 men including police, emergency services and armed forces on the ground.
The party will kick-off after the most trouble-plagued build-up to an Olympics in history, with a biting recession, double-digit unemployment, soaring crime and a public health crisis caused by the Zika virus just a few of the social problems ravaging the city
A political crisis led to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, meaning the Brazilian leader will miss Friday’s ceremony. Interim president Michel Temer will take Rousseff’s place, but could face a hostile reception from the crowd.
Brazilian media reports say that music will be turned up as soon as he finishes speaking to mask any booing from protesters.
“In a way the Olympics is good for Brazil to help us develop, but the country is very sad, full of violence and unemployment,” Carlos Roberto, 56, a dockyard worker told AFP as the Olympic flame passed through the city.
Anticipation for the sporting battles has been eclipsed by the fallout from the Russian doping scandal that has divided the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The IOC’s decision not to impose a blanket ban on Russia following revelations of a state-sponsored doping program opened the door to legal turmoil that left the precise make-up of the Russian team in limbo.
On Thursday, the IOC confirmed the Russian team would be made up of 271 athletes, with 118 eliminated because of the drug scandal.