Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 19 February 2010
There are no shortage of reasons why Rio de Janeiro is commonly known as the Cidade Maravilhosa – the Marvelous City. Intricately worked in between gorgeous beaches and lush green mountains, and topped with a big dose of Carnaval attitude, Rio is the perfect location for a party. The sport culture here (and for most of Brazil) reflects this passion, and the city is literally exploding thanks to the impact of sport. Having been selected for the Olympic Summer Games in 2016, it is indeed an exciting place to be, and Why Sport Matters jumped in to find out more.
It all starts in the city’s “South Zone”, which stretches from central downtown, heading south along the coast, includes the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, the residential district of Lagoa, to the rapidly growing beach district of Barra di Tijuca. The Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) guards the entrance into Rio’s bay, while the impressive Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer) watches over the city’s residents.
Rio’s heartbeat seems to flow from its beach culture, where Cariocas (residents of Rio) flock en masse, especially to take part in the non-stop sport activity. While jogging, swimming, and beach soccer are a constant, the long string of beach “courts” with people playing beach volleyball and foot volley (soccer volleyball) is unbelievable — check out this video we shot from the legendary Copacabana Beach. Why Sport Matters even woke up early one morning for football training with some locals on Ipanema Beach. Following the workout with a swim in the glittering waters of the Atlantic, you begin to understand the allure of the lifestyle.
The city’s sport scene benefits greatly from having hosted the Pan American Games in 2007. With investment in new sport facilities and public infrastructure, the conditions became ripe for acceptance as an Olympic city. Thanks in part to its proven success, plus the fact that a South American city has never hosted the Games, the IOC overwhelmingly chose Rio as home to the 2016 Games. Why Sport Matters spent some time at the Rio 2016 offices, which also holds the offices for COB (Comite Olimpico Brasileiro) as many staff still hold dual positions within the Brazilian Olympic Committee. Check out this YOUTUBE VIDEO that gives a panoramic view and explanation of various spots for sport during the 2016 Olympics.
Of course one can’t forget that Brazil is a football-crazed country, and Rio plays a key role in the madness. The iconic stadium Maracana sits in the middle of the city and acts as the focal point of sport activity. It will play host to the final of the World Cup in 2014, and is home to Flamengo, the biggest club in Brazil (and some say the entire world). The stadium literally rocks during the matches attended to full capacity. Why Sport Matters had the chance to watch the Rio derby to see Flamengo take on Fluminense (who also plays their home matches at the Maracana). In a match to remember, the Fla-Flu finished at 5-3 (check out this YOUTUBE VIDEO for a glimpse inside the stadium).
Though most of the players here are Brazilians, there is a rare foreigner who finds a place into this culture. Why Sport Matters sat down with Serbian Dejan Petkovic (see photo) who is idolized at Flamengo, and he shared his experiences having played all over the world. He assured us that the passion is at a different level in Brazil. In fact, when watching Brazilian football, there is an enjoyment and happiness that players have which seems to reflect the culture. It can also be seen in the Brazilian national team, one of the reasons why everybody seems to be a Brazilian fan (except maybe Argentina).
Our visit to actual sports club of Flamengo, based in Lagoa, was highlighted by an interview with newly elected president – Patricia Amorim. As a lifelong Flamengo member who developed into an Olympic swimmer, Amorim is changing the face of sport management in Brazil as the first women in such a position.
It is impossible to be in Rio and not notice the “favelas” – or slums. These shantytowns cover the hillsides of the city and play a big part of the social aspect. There are some interesting development projects in many of the favelas that use sport as a means for social change. We were able to check out Vencer (“To win”), which is a Latin-based programme that uses sport (especially football) to teach disadvantaged youth professional skills and preparation for the workplace. As the director of the programme explained, “there is a power in playing sport that can provide life lessons that can’t be taught in the classroom”.
A great example for the successful development of a single sport can be seen in the rise of volleyball in Brazil. In the past 30 years, volleyball has come from relative obscurity, to become the second most popular sport in the country, dominating the world by having succeeded at all major world championships and competitions and disciplines: indoor/beach, men/women, senior/youth. Why Sport Matters found out that there are several reasons for this success, including a structured and professional management, a competitive club scene with early talent identification/development, a history of successful world champions as role models, and the training centre at Saquarema not far outside of Rio. (See photo of mens youth team training at Saquarema). Again, the Brazilians seem to play volleyball with a passion, flare and joy that represent their culture, and can be witnessed by the throngs of people of all ages playing on the sands of the Brazilian coastline.
Back in the northern hemisphere, the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games began last week. Although there is not a great deal of media attention here in South America (while Rio experiences a summer heat wave), we have been following along in the international press. It was tragic to hear the news of the death of a luge athlete from Georgia during a training run. It created an unfortunate start to the Games, but the competitions seem to be going very well otherwise. This is the first Olympics we have missed in a long time, and we are thinking of all our friends and colleagues in Vancouver – one of our most favorite places in the world.
From the cultural side, it seems Brazilians make a sport out of partying! Carnaval is the ultimate of course, and for a long four days, the streets of the city come alive with marching samba bands, live concerts and huge crowds of fantasy dressed party-goers. Most of the street parties, or “bloccos”, are musicians who come from the favelas, and create music and beats that make everybody want to dance. It’s a lot like the way they play their sports. For the last two days of Carnaval, we headed south to the colonial beach town of Paraty – and spent a wonderful time out on the ocean one day, then waterfall hopping in the mountains the next. Our friend Mike runs a wellness centre there and showed us this amazing place. In his spare time, he also manages a great project which provides footballs to Africa – Project Play.
The next stop for Why Sport Matters is Argentina! Before heading to Chile and Colombia. See the TRAVEL SCHEDULE for more info, and don’t forget to check out our dedicated pages on:
Many people and friends (both old and new) to thank from our time in Rio including Pedro and Joana, Tiago, Mario, Saint-Clair, Alexandra, Pedro and Luis, Claudia, Cadu, Mike, Marcia, Patricia and Helio, Pet, and Andres.