Incredibly, it is now less than two weeks until the Olympics starts in Rio de Janeiro. Yet rather than hype, excitement, and expectation, it has been an avalanche of negativity. Rarely has a city been buffeted by so many crises leading up to a major event.
London had its wobbles, but our road to hosting the 2012 Olympics was comparatively smooth. Not so Rio 2016. The Zika virus, corruption, political turmoil, and even the tragicomic news of a jaguar used in a stunt for the Olympic torch relay being shot dead after it escaped from its handler. As someone once said, “you couldn’t make it up.”
The negative news around the Olympics has led the world’s top four golfers to pull out of the tournament, prompted Brazilian football legend Rivaldo to tell people not to travel to his country, and even sparked a minor campaign for the Games themselves to be postponed.
As a Londoner by upbringing and a Brazilian by birth I want to do my little bit to put the record straight.
Firstly, here’s an obvious truth: Brazil does suffer from corruption and it is going through a significant financial downturn. It is no longer the fly-away success story it has been portrayed as over the last decade. But what country could possibly live up to the hype that surrounded Brazil?
Just because it is going through a challenging period it is still the same country that has brought roughly 40m people out of poverty since the turn of the century. It is still the country that in less than my lifetime has gone from dictatorship to democracy, and from an economic backwater to the sixth biggest economy in the world. It is still the country of Samba and Carnaval, of amazing football and incredible food.
And, contrary to news reports, it is still the country where the majority of people are actually excited and proud that Rio is hosting the greatest sporting event on earth.
As fellow Olympic hosts we should also show solidarity with our successors. We were up against it four years ago. Ours was the first “austerity Games” as the city emerged from the global financial crisis. We were licking our wounds and the Olympics served as a catalyst for London’s renaissance.
I hope the Olympics can do the same for Rio and for Brazil. And I hope Londoners can find the Olympic spirit once-again and spark the level of enthusiasm in the Games, which was witnessed globally four years ago.
The Olympics can also have a healing affect on Brazil. It can help to unite Brazilians at a time when, like us Brits, the country’s people are divided.
Like the World Cup two years ago it will also be an opportunity to inspire a generation of Brazilian children not only to strive for success on the track or in the pool but in life in general. Through my work with Childreach International I have seen first hand the incredible role sport can play in turning around the lives of kids without the kind of support network most of us take for granted.
So let’s park the cynicism and the negativity - even just for the August Olympics. The London Games may not have been the most lavish but it rode a wave of public enthusiasm that saw thousands volunteer and tens of thousands come out in London to watch the events and support the athletes.
The Olympics might be 5,000 miles away rather than five minutes down the road this time round, but let’s try to get some of that spirit back once again.
Children's charity Childreach International will be marking the start of the Olympics with a free family day at the CopaCabana beach on the South Bank on 6 August.