If the opening ceremonies of the Athens, Beijing and London Olympic Games aimed to prove something, the inaugural event in Rio aimed to show something.
In Greece we tried to prove that we can track our history far back in time and that the Olympic idea was born here while also demonstrating our capabilities at using new technologies to produce large-scale events. In Beijing, the Chinese also wished to prove that they go way back and that their culture has its own, distinct virtues.
The anxiety of the British, who invested in their globally recognized symbols – ranging from James Bond to The Beatles – was to prove that they are still a leading international power.
The Brazilians were equally anxious, and this was aggravated by a much smaller budget and the knowledge that they wouldn’t be able to use the Games as an excuse for overspending. Their aim, therefore, was to demonstrate, first of all, that they came together as a multiracial nation through population flows from Europe (conquerors), Africa (slaves) and Asia (migrants), and, secondly, to show to their truly international audience of billions of viewers around the world that the current situation on planet Earth is not exactly something to celebrate. They wanted to show that something must change soon unless we want the disappearance of islands and coastal cities due to the rise of sea levels to become a reality.
In other words, they wanted to demonstrate that the greenhouse effect is a real issue, not something dreamt up by conspiracy theorists. That it is a man-made phenomenon, the result of greedy abuse of the planet’s resources. The message in the spectacle highlighting the destruction plaguing one of the planet’s few remaining lungs, the Amazon rainforest, was simple but timely (similar to a recent warning from physicist Stephen Hawking), no matter how many aesthetic flaws we might point out.
Their emphasis on the Amazon rainforest was not a case of localism. Think of the butterfly effect. The gradual destruction of the Amazon rainforest might not be entirely unrelated to the fact that we in Greece now use air-conditioning even on our coolest islands, or that every new year in the 21st century has been unnaturally warmest in the previous two decades.
The symbolic participation in the Games of a team of refugees had a similar aim, while showcasing another planetary ailment: forced migration. However, that does not absolve the International Olympic Committee of its failures, nor does it solve the migrant issue. But no problem can ever be solved if we don’t face it – especially when all the world is watching.