Now that the dust has settled on what by all accounts was an incredible Olympic Games in London recently, Brazil will be the focus of the sporting world for the next four years. Not only are they hosting the biggest sporting event in the world in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 but two years prior to that in 2014 the famous Maracana will play host to the World Cup final which was last played there in 1950 when Brazil lost to Uruguay, so needless to say the locals will be hoping for a better finish this time!
This is of course a massive undertaking for any country hosting a World Cup but even more so in Brazil by having 12 host cities spread out across enormous distances, in some cases very remote cities in the Amazon which need massive investments in stadia, infrastructure and hotel rooms, with the longest distance between venues being the equivalent of travelling from London to Baghdad! However, as is usually the case with these events such as South Africa in 2010, when the time comes everything will be completed, there’ll be a couple of glitches but overall it will run smoothly and everyone goes home happy.
The national football team and those of neighbours Uruguay and Argentina have long been major players in soccer on the world stage as beween them they account for almost 50% of World Cup wins and 80% of the Copa America finals since 1976 so you would expect them all to fancy their chances this time around and it would be a brave soul to bet against it happening. However while being overachievers in football, polo, volleyball, boxing and maybe hockey the Olympics medal haul for Latin America in general is quite poor with Sweden and South Korea having more gold medals to show than the entire continent combined. This may change if MMA (that’s Mixed Martial Arts for the uninitated, it’s definitely not recommended for the faint of heart!) is introduced as an Olympic sport in the future as Brazil is currently the dominant player in what is regarded as the fastest growing sport in the world.
With the games arriving in South America for the first time we may very well see a large increase in the number of medals for Latin countries as there will probably be a push for investment in sports which has not been seen before and the host country traditionally gets a boost from their usual haul. The main reasons why Latin America has lagged behind the rest of the world is mainly due to money and a recent report on the BBC shows that an Olympic medal cost on average £4m of investment which is far beyond the means of most Latin countries. Overall the medal haul at London was a big improvement over recent Olympics and there were big celebrations in Guatemala when they secured their first ever medal, silver in the 20km Walk, while Venezuela won only their 2nd gold ever after a 44 year gap in fencing but this could simply be due to countries outstanding athletes in their respective disciplines rather than anything special their respective countries did to help them.
One area where Latin America can and have started to help their athletes is via private sponsorship and an example of this is Bolivia’s largest brewery helping 10 athletes in several fields, including distance running where Bolivia’s altitude is a major advantage, and while this may not sound like much it’s still 10 more than have previously been helped. It would be great if there was no repeat of the experiences of Peruvian athlete, Mario Bazan a long distance runner, who complained that he was unable to afford breakfast in preparation for the London games.
This is also a fantastic opportunity for the respective tourism boards of neighbouring South American countries to take full advantage of the huge influx of sports fans to who will be in Brazil to extend their trip to see some of the many once-in-a-lifetime experiences this amazing and diverse continent has to offer!