‘Rio will host fantastic Olympics’, says British ambassador to Brazil

brasilobserver - Feb 16 2015
Vinicius and Tom: mascots of Rio 2016. Tickets for the Games are available on www.rio2016.com

(Leia em Português)

In an interview with the official website of Rio 2016, Alex Ellis discussed the legacy of London 2012 and emphasizes partnerships created by the Brazilian and British governments

By Ana Cláudia Felizola 

Having hosted the Olympic Games twice before (1908 and 1948), London was again chosen to host the 2012 Games. Before the event, one of the claims was that the British capital would never be able to surpass the level of organisation of the Beijing Games in 2008. However, the challenges were overcome, and the city became the first in the world to host the event three times.

The advantages gained for the population continue to add up. From the revitalisation of abandoned areas to increases in tourism (London surpassed Paris for the first time in 2013 as the most visited city in the world) the legacies from the Olympic and Paralympic Games are many and varied. For the UK ambassador to Brazil, Alex Ellis, some of the most important achievements have to do with the mentality of the population: volunteer work, for example, grew by 40% after the event. In addition, society’s general view towards people with disabilities was also positively affected.

In an interview with Brazilian government’s official portal for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the British ambassador commented on many of the legacies generated by the world’s biggest sporting event. And he made a bold statement: “Rio will host fantastic Olympics.” Here’s what else he had to say.


What were the country’s expectations in 2012?

When London was named host city in 2005, many people cheered and celebrated the news. On the other hand, there were also negative reactions and comparisons with other host cities. Some sectors of society, especially the British press, said that London couldn’t overcome Beijing, but in the end those assumptions were wrong. There was inevitably a lot of anxiety, including about transportation, in the final stretch of preparations before the official opening. It is normal and understandable.


Was that initial view transformed after the Games?

Despite nerves before the event, the whole country saw and joined in the success of the Games. It is impossible to deny that they were beneficial to the city, population, trade and for the UK as a whole. The Games were memorable, and people recognise that.


The Paralympic Games had great attendance in all events. Was that surprising?

In a way it was, since all box office records so far were broken. About 2.7 million tickets were sold, with most events sold out. We also broke all records related to television broadcast and the effects on social media. However, what surprised me the most was not the box-office success, but rather the impact that the Paralympic Games had in British people’s perception of persons with disabilities.


Could you mention an example?

One survey by the British Paralympic Association (BPA) revealed that the Paralympic Games have had a profound effect in children from all over the United Kingdom: about seven out of ten children surveyed said that the Games have changed the way they saw people with disabilities. This is a great achievement, and shows how a sporting event can be transformative for society. In that sense, an agreement was made in 2011 between the UK Government, the Brazilian Paralympic Committee and the Brazilian Ministry of Sport so that our young Paralympic athletes and Brazilian counterparts could compete together. In September last year, Brazilian athletes joined in on the Sainsbury’s School Games in England. In November, a British Paralympic athlete delegation joined the Brazilian Paralympic School Games. We were the only foreign delegation.


What other legacies have been perceived as being left by the Games in the city and in the country?

We have several areas where the London Games legacy is being explored, including economic growth – London proved that yes, host cities can grow economically. The Games yielded 14.2 billion pounds in investments and partnerships in the UK and reached their target in two years. The initial goal was to reach 11 billion pounds in investment in four years. Another aspect was the opportunity to use the Olympic and Paralympic spirit to unite communities around the belief that sport can bring people together to improve society. We relied on volunteers within the arenas, the Game Makers (photo), but also on the streets helping tourists, with the Team London Ambassadors. Volunteer work, which had been decreasing since 2005, was strongly encouraged and grew 40% after the Games.


In relation to tourism, how have the Games influenced new people visiting to the city?

Tourism in London, which was already high, was not underestimated, and received great attention from the beginning of planning. The results were excellent: in 2013, London had an increase of 1.3 million international tourists, hitting a record and surpassing Paris for the first time as the most visited city in the world.


Some areas of the city were revitalised for the competitions. How has that affected the reality of local communities?

Both for Glasgow 2014 and for the London 2012 Games, a legacy plan was designed to explore the use of the Olympic facilities by the local community, assisting in the development of young athletes, encouraging vocational training and educational activities, and providing one more area for leisure and sports practice for local communities. Especially in East London, where the Olympic Park was built, the results were excellent (photo below). To name a few improvements: 3,000 trees planted, removal of more than 15 tons of garbage from rivers, canals and parks, more than 7,000 m² of new gardens, and more than 50 abandoned sites revitalised. This change in the quality of spaces that were previously unattractive helped other sectors, such as tourism, infrastructure and health. In addition, 2,800 apartments used as accommodation for athletes in the London Olympics in 2012 were converted into residential apartments.


How do you see Rio de Janeiro’s preparations?

I was extremely impressed with the success of the organisation for the World Cup. In the end, Brazil showed that it can host mega events with excellence. The Rio Games have everything to be a complete success, and British athletes are very excited about what we have seen of the city in our visits so far. I’m convinced Rio will host fantastic Olympics. The views in the Olympic areas are of incomparable beauty. No host city can compete with Rio in that regard. London Olympics medallists like Pete Reed (rowing), Luke Patience (sailing) and Tom Daley (diving) have all been in Rio for technical visits, and all were marvelled at its beauty.


What experiences can London convey to Rio de Janeiro?

We have a great partnership with the Brazilian government, the Rio state government, the city of Rio and the Rio 2016 Organising Committee to collaborate for the Rio Games. Since 2009, more than 40 UK and Brazil government departments have engaged in exchanges related to the Olympics, with at least 160 internal and external missions, workshops, seminars and events. In 2012, the Brazilian government, in partnership with us, created the “Government Observer Program of the 2012 London Olympics”, under which 300 participants went to London in order to study and analyse all actions taken. After the Games, we officially passed the baton to Brazil and are in constant dialogue about the Olympic and Paralympic, for which the London organisers have shared their experience with the organisers of the 2016 Games. There has never been a closer partnership between governments of both countries and their host cities as there is now.