The countdown to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games has kicked up a notch with the official lighting of the Olympic flame and the Rio 2016 torch.
The flame, which will travel through Greece for a week before beginning its full journey to Rio, was lit by the sun in the Temple of Hera in Olympia, as per the ancient tradition.
A large crowd was gathered to witness Greek actress Katerina Lehou use a parabolic mirror and the heat of the midday sun to ignite the flame.
“With huge emotion and energy, we are here today in the Olympia holy land of the Olympic games. The Games start today with the lighting of the flame,” Carlos Nuzman, president of the Rio 2016 organising committee, said.
“It’s our honour to lead this dream — the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The first in our country, the first in South America, the first in a different region of the world.
“You’ll remember this moment forever, for centuries.”
On Wednesday, a “back up” flame was lit in case of poor weather at the official ceremony, but the skies smiled upon the Rio Games with glorious conditions in Olimpia.
The torch will now take a brief trip around Greece and Switzerland, before commencing its 90-day journey to Rio and the Maracana, where the cauldron will be lit on August 5.
Greek gymnast Eleftherios Petrounias became the first athlete to hold the torch, with Brazilian volleyball champion Giovane Gavio next in line once the Greek leg gets underway.
More than 12,000 torchbearers will participate in the flame’s journey from Greece, through Brazil and in to Rio.
So the torch will start its 3 month journey around the world before lighting up the the Olympic flame at legendary Maracaná stadium in Brazil. But the question at this point is, will there be Olympics in Rio this year?
Because it’s no secret that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is in the midst of a stunning fall from grace, and the current crisis began with the largest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history.
What’s going on in Brazil?
In mid-2013, Brazilian police detained a money launderer named Alberto Youssef, who had been arrested nine times before, on yet another money laundering charge.
But this time, Youssef had something very different to say. “Guys,” Youssef reportedly told prosecutors, “if I speak, the republic is going to fall.”
Youssef began to describe what we now know as the Petrobras scandal — the single biggest problem for Rousseff’s government.
Between about 2004 and 2014, the state-run energy firm Petrobras — which is Brazil’s largest company and one of the largest corporations in the world — engaged in one of the most astonishing corruption schemes ever to be uncovered.
Nobody knows who exactly came up with the scheme. But it was developed during the commodities boom of the 2000s, when oil prices were high, and involved three main groups of players: leaders at Petrobras, top executives at Brazil’s major construction companies, and Brazilian politicians.
It worked in four steps:
- Construction executives secretly created a cartel to coordinate bids on Petrobras contracts and systematically overcharge the company.
- A select group of Petrobras employees turned a blind eye, allowing the construction companies to charge Petrobras outrageous sums.
- The construction executives then pocketed the proceeds from these inflated contracts and rewarded their partners inside Petrobras with big bribes.
- Some of the proceeds also got sent to friendly politicians, as either personal gifts or donations to their campaigns. Because Petrobras is partially owned by the state, politicians can install people as executives — who then turn around and reward that politician with a bribe.
Huge sums of money, according to the New York Times, would be “hand-delivered by an elderly gentleman who flew around the world with bricks of cash, shrink-wrapped and strapped beneath thigh-high socks and a Spanx-like vest.” Sometimes bribes would be distributed in the form of “Rolex watches, $3,000 bottles of wine, yachts, helicopters and prostitutes.”
All in all, somewhere upward of $5.3 billion changed hands as part of this scheme.
Many experts agree that this massive Petrobras scandal is the culmination of what happens when you have a corruption problem building, more or less unchecked, over several generations and in one of the world’s largest countries.
Will there be Olympics in Río this year?
Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said the Rio Games will be held “in a world shaken by crises” but hailed preparations for the first Olympics in South America.
“Brazilian people will enthusiastically welcome the world and amaze us with their joy of life and their passion for sport,” he predicted.
“Despite the difficulties that Brazil is facing today, the flame is a timeless reminder that we are all part of the same humanity,” Bach concluded.
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