Editor’s note: Sarnia’s Craig Hobin is a special contributor reporting from the Olympics in Brazil.
Regardless of what takes place during the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro this month, Brazilians will be laughing.
For several reasons, it may be one of the best Olympics yet. On the other hand, considering the unending stream of scandals and controversies, it could turn into an utter catastrophe.
But when you’ve been inured to unreliable government and societal strife as much as “Brasileiros” have, you learn to make the most of imperfect situations. In their native Portuguese, they prefer to say “Rir pra não chorar” or “Laugh so you don’t cry.”
While living in Brazil and working as a teacher in the capital city of Brasília (Rio was vacated by the federal government in 1960), I have been consistently amazed by the extraordinary capacity of the people here to maintain their well-reputed exuberance, even with great uncertainty surrounding them.
The country has been in crisis mode since a decade of boom times ended with the Great Recession, and complications snowballed (a reference not well understood in balmy Brazil) from there.
A massive graft scandal implicating much of the Congress has been uncovered and politicians have shifted the spotlight away from themselves and the sputtering economy by suspending the president.
In recent months the country has grappled with a health pandemic (Zika virus) as well as skyrocketing rates of crime, about both of which the UN has expressed serious alarm.
Amidst all of this, Brazil will host the Olympics. Along with this Herculean undertaking, a new series of concerns have surfaced. There are anxieties over infrastructure, shabbily constructed or unready, as well as government overspending resulting in public servants not being paid. Picturesque Guanabara Bay, site of sailing and windsurfing events, has been deemed toxic, while the Russian track team has been banned for drug violations and other athletes are boycotting over fears of Zika.
Some may say it’s crazy to go ahead with the Olympics in Rio, but that would be contrary to the character of Brazilians. Trudging on with their trademark temerity despite the state-instigated tumult, while simultaneously insisting that everything is “muito tranquilo,” is as much the national pastime here as soccer.
Besides, there is plenty to remain sanguine about with these Summer Games.
Any major event held in Rio will be remarkable. It is one of the world’s prettiest, most athletic and exciting cities. As anyone who has visited the “Cidade Maravilhosa” for Carnival knows, it never fails to put on a spectacular show.
This should be celebrated as the first Olympics held in South America, and Brazilians will bring to the party an unmatched energy and a level of passion rarely rivalled.
But no matter what happens in Rio in the weeks to come, listen for the laughter.
Craig Hobin is a St. Christopher grad teaching history and international relations at the American School of Brasilia.