Brazil unfurled a vast canvas celebrating its rain forest and the creative energy of its wildly diverse population in welcoming the world to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, all to the pounding beat of samba, bossa nova and funk.
Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer declared open the first Games ever in South America.
But in a display of the deep political divisions plaguing Brazil, he was jeered by some in the crowd at the famed Maracana soccer stadium.
Ireland’s contingent of athletes was lead into the Maracana stadium by Olympic medal winner Paddy Barnes.
The opening ceremony was decidedly simple and low-tech, a reflection of Brazil’s tough economic times.
In one of the world’s most unequal societies, the spectacle celebrated the culture of the favelas, the slums that hang above the renowned beaches of Rio and ring the Maracana.
There was no glossing over history either: from the arrival of the Portuguese and their conquest of the indigenous populations to the use of African slave labour for 400 years. The clash of cultures, as the ceremony showed, is what makes Brazil the complex mosaic that it is.
Home to the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest, Brazil used the ceremony to call on the 3 billion people watching the opening of the world’s premiere sporting event to take care of the planet, plant seeds and protect the verdant land that Europeans found here five centuries ago.
Brazilian marathon runner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, a bronze medallist in Athens in 2004, lit the Olympic cauldron, a small and low-emission model befitting the environmental theme of these Games.
Unlike the opening ceremonies in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, a financially constrained Brazil had little choice but to put on a more “analogue” show, with minimal high-tech and a heavy dependence on the vast talent of Brazil and its Carnival party traditions. In the nearly four-hour event, nothing appeared to go awry.
While the Rio 2016 organising committee has not said how much the ceremony cost, it is believed to be about half of the $42m spent by London in 2012.
The show drew homegrown stars, like supermodel Gisele Bundchen, who walked across the stadium to the sound of bossa nova hit ‘Girl from Ipanema’ and tropicalia legends Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Everyone performed for free.
Loud cheering erupted when two of the last teams entered the stadium: the first Refugee team in Olympic history and finally a samba-dancing Brazil contingent.
The joyful opening contrasted with months of turmoil and chaos, not only in the organisation of the Olympics but across Brazil as it endures its worst economic recession in decades and a deep political crisis.
Before the entry of a few thousand of the 11,000 athletes that will be competing in the Games, the playful rhythms of the ceremony gave way to a sober message about climate change and rampant deforestation of the Amazon.
Each athlete will be asked to plant seeds that will eventually grow into trees and be planted in Rio in a few years.