RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach erupted in Samba dancing and joy on Friday after the Brazilian city won the vote to host the 2016 Olympic Games, bringing the world’s biggest sporting event to South America for the first time.
The decision in Copenhagen kicked off a Carnival-style celebration on the sand as thousands of Cariocas, as Rio residents are known, danced and shouted in delight in front of a big stage and screens that showed the vote live.
The decision confirming Rio’s victory over Madrid in the final vote was greeted by screams of excitement and outbreaks of Samba dancing among hundreds of green, blue and yellow Brazilian flags.
One of Rio’s top Carnival Samba troupes struck up as revelers unveiled a huge flag saying “Rio loves you,” alongside an image of the city’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.
“Rio won because we are a marvelous people. The Olympics in Rio will be wonderful,” said Cecelia Barbossa, a 69-year-old lawyer partying on the beach.
Television images from Copenhagen showed an emotional President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who campaigned intensely for the bid, hugging other members of the Rio campaign.
The decision brings the Olympics to the city that most encapsulates the tropical country’s love of Samba music, Carnival and soccer.
Thousands of exuberant Brazilians, many taking the day off work, partied with foreign tourists on the same sands where the beach volleyball competition will be held in 2016.
In the picturesque hills of Santa Teresa overlooking the city, a drum band struck up as residents danced around it.
“I think it’s good for Rio and good for Brazil,” said Felipe Augusto Cabral, a 22-year-old university student celebrating on Copacabana. “It will make a lot of things better, the security situation more than anything.”
The city is dotted with about a thousand slums, or favelas, and suffers from high crime rates that were seen as a potential weakness in its bid.
Critics of the bringing the Games here say the investments would be better made in Rio’s poorly funded hospitals and schools, and worry that poorer people could be left out of the gains in a city that suffers sharp inequality.
But it appears the International Olympic Committee was persuaded by the argument made by organizers and Lula that Rio needs the Games to help it overcome some of those social problems.
“Certainly Rio has violence but so does every city. We held the Pan-American Games (in 2007) and nothing happened and we won’t have problems with this,” said Marco Antonio Machado, a 52-year-old federal government worker who was given the day off for the occasion.
Surveys have shown strong support for hosting the Games in Rio and the city’s campaign made the most of the famous passion of its people and its stunning natural setting between mountains and the sea.
The 6 million Rio residents have a warmth and passion that explodes in their fierce soccer rivalries and during Carnival — the raucous annual festival that unites rich and poor in a blur of Samba and Bacchanalia.
Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Will Dunham