By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the imminent arrival of London’s Olympic year, it’s all systems go at the British Consulate General Rio de Janeiro with preparations for a 2012 full of visits, events, programs and exchanges promoting partnerships between the UK and Brazil.
“Everyone’s interested in Brazil at the moment, but we’re the only ones who’ve got the Olympics in 2012 so it’s really nice to be able to use that connection not just for sport but for business, sustainability, green economy, culture and security. It really helps in making the cooperation more relevant and practical” says British Consul General in Rio Paula Walsh.
The Consulate’s activities in 2011 have been focused on creating links between the two Olympic host countries, with a high profile visit to Brazil from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in June with four other ministers plus seventy delegates from the worlds of UK sport, business, culture and academia.
The highlight of the visit was a London to Rio: Olympic Legacy conference which united Clegg, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt and an influential Brazilian panel including Rio mayor Eduardo Paes, President of the Olympic Board, Henrique Meirelles and Rio 2016 Organizing Committee President, Carlos Nuzman to discuss the challenges and what can be learned from either side.
Paula Walsh explains, “For the UK it’s really important we have an economic legacy from 2012 and part of that is winning business contracts in Brazil, whether they’re related to Olympics 2016 or as a showcase of what we can do. There’s a real respect and interest in what’s gone on in London.”
The UK’s delivery of the Olympics is indeed being closely watched by the Rio organizers, with Rio’s governor Sergio Cabral and mayor Eduardo Paes visiting the Olympic park in London in September. British expertise are already to be part of the Rio 2016 preparations with UK architecture firm AECOM winning the master planning contract for Rio’s Olympic park in August this year.
With Rio’s 2016 Olympic bid promise to be the most sustainable Olympics yet, the impressive sustainability record of London’s preparations mean that Walsh and her team are looking to foster more business links in the green delivery of Rio 2016.
London’s main promise to the world in its 2012 bid is to inspire the children of the world through sport, which is an exciting part of the plans for the British Consulate in Rio in 2012 with exchanges between British and Brazilian schools and football-based social programs sponsored by the UK Premier League.
“The idea is that this doesn’t happen once but builds a partnership between those schools, children and [organizations] and carries on” explains Walsh. “That’s the key for us: the Olympics can catalyze partnerships, but you have to have a plan for how to take those partnerships forward.”
To celebrate the Olympic connection and promote cultural exchange, the consulate will launch the UK Brasil program in March – a series of culture, sport and social programs led by the British Council throughout 2012 to build relationships with Brazilian institutions, business and organizations.
With Rio +20 (United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development), and the Queen’s 60th Jubilee in June, and anticipated visits from the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor, not to mention the Olympics and Paralympics themselves, 2012 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Walsh and her team.
Consul General Walsh shares, “It’s a great time to be in Rio. There’s so much interest in Brazil. It’s a nice position to be in at the consulate here in Rio. Almost every visitor we have wants to come to Rio and it’s not just because of the beaches, it’s because of the Olympics, the business, oil and gas, and everything that’s going on here. We’re all going to be very busy.”