RIO DE JANEIRO: International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach made an appeal for unity in a troubled world Friday as the opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games got under way.
Bach, who has faced criticism in recent weeks for his decision not to ban Russia from the Games over a doping scandal, said the August 5-21 sporting extravaganza would send a message of hope to the watching world.
“We are living in a world of crises, mistrust and uncertainty,” Bach said.
“Here is our Olympic answer: the 10,000 best athletes in the world, competing with each other, at the same time living peacefully together in one Olympic Village, sharing their meals and their emotions.
“In this Olympic world, we see that the values of our shared humanity are stronger than the forces which want to divide us,” he added.
Bach said the presence of the IOC’s Olympic refugee team – comprising 10 athletes who have fled war or poverty to compete in Rio – was a riposte to a world “where selfishness is gaining ground, where certain people claim to be superior to others.”
“You are sending a message of hope to all the many millions of refugees around the globe. You had to flee from your homes because of violence, hunger or just because you were different,” Bach said.
“Now, with your great talent and human spirit you are making a great contribution to society.”
Bach meanwhile said the first Olympic Games staged in South America had helped transform Rio de Janeiro, despite the failure to deliver certain infrastructure promises and a pledge to clean up the city’s heavily polluted Guanabara Bay.
“You have transformed the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro into a modern metropolis and made it even more beautiful,” Bach said.
Brazilian Olympic Committee chief Carlos Nuzman meanwhile attracted jeers – swiftly drowned out by applause – after praising the contribution of Brazil’s scandal-hit federal government.
“Rio is proud to be the Olympic capital of the world,” Nuzman said. — AFP