By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Six months after the Rio 2016 Olympics, the Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca finally hosted its first sports event since the end of the Games, and, according to local news reports, visitors were extremely disappointed in the condition of the site that once hosted many of Rio 2016’s most memorable moments.
On Sunday, February 5th, Olympic Park hosted “Gigantes da Praia” (Giants of the Beach) a beach volleyball tournament headlined by a match between Olympic champions Alison and Bruno Schmidt and Americans Dalhausser and Lucena. The event was held in the Olympic Tennis Complex, one of several stadiums within the vast site.
After the event, spectators leaving the area were not shy in voicing their displeasure with the condition of the facilities, with several labeling Olympic Park as appearing “abandoned”. Visitors felt the venue was a far cry from the site that once hosted well over 150,000 fans on a single day during the Rio 2016 Games.
“It’s an abandonment,” exclaimed a frustrated Wanderson Wygers to O Globo, “a disregard for public money, for the visitors who come here and want to see it being used, turned to future schools.”
Another spectator leaving the event said, “The park is beautiful, big, but looks abandoned.”
Despite the disappointment of the fans who came on Sunday, the following day, Monday, February 6th, Brazil’s Ministry of Sports Leonardo Picciani reasserted the government’s goal to make positive use of the site.
“We believe that the only way to preserve the Olympic legacy is to create a consistent calendar of training, competition and initiation to sports.” He added, “At the end of February, the Ministry of Sports will start social programs here in the Olympic Park with children and young people, seeking the formation of new athletes.”
Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella also remains optimistic that the area will be frequently used. “Our planning here in partnership with the federal government is that every weekend we can have an event,” exclaimed the mayor. “Whether it’s tennis, volleyball, or handball, then try to make it an epicenter of Olympic sports here.”
Before Sunday’s event, the last event held at Olympic Park was the finals of Wheelchair Rugby held on the last day of the Paralympics on September 18th, 2016.
At the end of December, Rio City Hall transferred management of the site, which houses a total of nine venues, to the federal government citing the lack of interested parties submitting bids to manage the site.
Currently, the area is still being maintained by the company contracted by former Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes in November. The Municipal Guard is responsible for taking care of the common areas.
On Saturday, January 21st, new Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella opened the area to the public for weekends and holidays while the arenas, except for this past Sunday’s event, remain closed.
In September 2017, the Olympic Park is set to host the music spectacle Rock in Rio, which it has just announced, will be headlined this year by pop superstar Lady Gaga.