Aug 02, 2016

    Olympic flame under fire as public anger flares in Brazil

    YOU may not have noticed this, but in the last few weeks, protesters in Brazil have tried to douse the Olympic flame.

    In popular mythology, the flame, which represents the illicit gift of fire from Prometheus to man, doesn't go out at all.

    In reality, things are much more practical and the flame does go on and off. In fact, during the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, Russia, the flame went out more than 40 times.

    However, as a symbol of the Games, it's hard to beat the image of a tireless runner pounding the pavement while proudly holding aloft the torch that never goes out.

    Unfortunately, the timing of these Games is all wrong.

    When Brazil won the right to host the Olympics, everything was hunky dory.

    The economy was one of the fastest growing in the world and the Workers' Party administration of then president Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva enjoyed record levels of popularity.

    Almost as a symbol of a renewed national spirit and economic well-being, Brazil won the right to host two of the world's biggest events - the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

    But, frankly, the dream appears to be in tatters. In the sporting arena, Brazil's football team crashed out to an unbelievably humiliating 7-1 defeat to eventual champions Germany, plunging the nation into a collective disbelieving depression.

    Off the field, the spread of the mysterious Zika virus made news, as it resulted in babies being born with the microcephaly birth defect.

    As things stand at the moment, Brazil has a probable 138,000 cases of Zika, as reported by its Ministry of Health last month.

    Politically, Mr Lula's successor, Dilma Rousseff, has been seemingly toppled in what her supporters consider to be a legislative coup.

    She was elected to her second term in October 2014, marking a fourth consecutive victory for the Workers' Party, but her term has been one of constant embattlement.

    It all climaxed when parties within her coalition deserted the president in impeachment hearings and she was suspended in May.

    This means that the Olympics are taking place in an incredibly polarised atmosphere with many Rousseff supporters feeling particularly betrayed by Vice-President Michel Termer, who switched sides and enters the Olympics as acting President.

    Where for the last few years street protests centred on anti-Rousseff corruption allegations, now it appears the reverse is true.

    Her supporters are angry. And the poor Olympic flame is being caught in the crossfire.

    Despite being surrounded by an ever-increasing entourage of bodyguards, the flame runners have been attacked from all sides. In late June, it passed through the farming town of Maracaju in central Brazil, only for a 27-year-old to attack it with a bucket of water.

    Next in Joinville, in Santa Catarina State, the flame was being moved serenely through the streets only to be set upon by a nut with a fire extinguisher!

    And when the Olympic torch relay reached the metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, it found its path disrupted by striking teachers.

    Some runners quit the relay and the flame had to take a detour as protesters threw stones and police responded with tear gas and pepper spray.

    The Games are set to begin but I do think we need to lower our expectations.

    The organisers have been accused of poor planning over everything from health screening to public transport and sewage management.

    To be honest, I am just hoping for a peaceful Games.