RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Copacabana beachgoers prepared on Thursday for a Samba-infused celebration, promising an Olympic “Carnival” in 2016 if Rio de Janeiro is awarded the world’s biggest sporting event.
“We can’t allow ourselves not to believe in this,” said Alexandre Morreira, 32-year-old hotel worker who was reading a newspaper near a stage and big screens being set up on the beach before Friday’s decision on the 2016 host city.
“If Rio wins, the Olympics will be a huge party.”
A day of music and dance, including a performance by one of Rio’s top Carnival Samba “schools,” is planned to coincide with the Olympic vote in Copenhagen that will choose Rio, Chicago, Madrid or Tokyo.
“Brazil is only happiness,” chimed in 60-year-old Paulo Ferreira da Silva, a 40-year veteran vendor on Copacabana, as he set out Brazilian flag beach mats,
Bookmakers have Rio as second favorite behind Chicago, but there is a strong feeling here that it has the momentum to come from behind and bring the Olympics to South America for the first time.
Just as the Beijing Olympics of 2008 was seen as marking China’s revival as an world power, Rio 2016 would be seen as a stamp of approval on the South American giant’s coming of age.
After decades of underachievement, Latin America’s largest country has enjoyed economic stability and growth in recent years, finally making good on the immense promise of its abundant natural resources and vibrant democracy.
“If Rio wins, it will be good for Rio but also for Brazil,” said Umberto Rosario, 34, a DJ originally from the capital, Brasilia, who was jogging on the sand. “It would be a chance for foreigners to see that Brazil is now a country that is able to stage events at an international level.”
Many Cariocas, as Rio’s residents are known, also hope the Games would kick off a renaissance for the city in the same way that the 1992 Olympics did for Barcelona.
The city known for its golden beaches overlooked by the Christ the Redeemer statue has seen cultural and business influence flow steadily to financial capital Sao Paulo in recent years and remains dogged by a reputation for crime.
As part of Rio’s bid, organizers are promising new roads to ease congestion, more progressive security policies to deal with drug violence in its slums, and a cleanup of its polluted lakes and the main bay of Guanabara.
The prospect of Olympics events incorporating Rio’s landmarks are a key selling point in the strongest-ever bid by a South American city for the Games.
A marathon finish in Carnival’s Sambadrome, beach volleyball on Copacabana, rowing under the Christ statue, and football in the Maracana stadium are among the plans.
In a very Brazilian touch, athletes would have their own beach in the western region of Barra da Tijuca.
But while surveys show 85 percent of Cariocas and 69 percent of Brazilians support the Games, some are skeptical the benefits would filter down to ordinary people.
Rio’s successful hosting of the Pan-American Games in 2007 left a sour taste for many because of cost overruns and unmet promises such as an expansion of the city’s subway lines.
Organizers are estimating total costs of nearly 29 billion reais ($16 billion), but say much of that would be spent anyway as part of plans to upgrade the city’s infrastructure.
“If Brazil put a good sports program in place for children, I would be in favor. But it’s not the case,” said Marcos Bueno, a 40-year-old office worker.
“I think they want the Olympics to build big things and to divert the money like they did with the Pan-Am Games.”
$1= 1.78 reais Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Doina Chiacu