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(Yonhap Interview) Beautiful, safe Rio ready to welcome Olympic guests with open arms: envoy

All News 09:30 July 26, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, July 26 (Yonhap) -- Concerns regarding its safety or health risks notwithstanding, Rio de Janeiro is ready to welcome international guests with "open arms" for next month's Summer Olympics, Brazil's top envoy to South Korea said.

In an interview with Yonhap News Agency Monday in his Seoul office, Ambassador Luis Fernando Serra said Brazil has a proven track record of hosting mega events, and the Rio Summer Games will be another opportunity to demonstrate its capabilities.

"Everything is ready, and we're waiting with open arms," he said of the Aug. 5-21 Olympics. "I think people will be surprised by the level of organization and amazed by the beauty of the city."

Serra pointed out that Brazil hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup without major incidents, and that 2 to 3 million people gather on Rio's Copacabana Beach annually for the Rio Carnival. He said the New Year's Eve festivities also attract major crowds.

"I believe that the Olympic Games will be very successful," he said. "People will have a lot of fun, and we're going to have a lot of fun hosting you."

Despite Serra's optimism, Rio continues to be dogged by security and public health crises. The Zika virus, a mosquito-borne infection linked to birth defects, has scared off athletes from competing in Rio. Reports of rampant violent crime and petty theft -- with pickpockets licking their chops at the thousands of visitors expected during the Olympics -- are also a source of major concern.

Serra, a Rio native, echoed the sentiment of other experts in regards to the Zika virus, noting that it's actually winter time in August in Rio and mosquitoes won't survive in relatively low temperatures of the low 10s C at night.

Serra insisted that the government has taken measures to address the security challenge, especially in light of recent attacks in France and Germany.

"There will be 20,000 soldiers on the streets of Rio," the ambassador said. "Besides the Carnival and the World Cup, we hosted the 1992 Rio Summit (the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development) with more than 100 heads of state. All these events happened without any incidents. I hope that we'll be happy enough to say the same after the conclusion of these Olympic Games."

Serra said Rio is already a major tourist attraction, and he's eager to see just how much more it will grow following the Olympics.

He said most of the public works that have been done for the Olympics "will remain for the people of Rio" afterwards, including new subway lines and special tracks for buses.

Rio is also trying to follow in the footsteps of Barcelona, which, after developing its port area for the 1992 Summer Olympics, evolved into one of the major tourist destinations in Europe.

"We revitalized the port area following the example of Barcelona," Serra said. "We didn't build too much in new areas, but revitalized the downgraded areas."

Putting his sports enthusiast hat on, Serra said football is his favorite sport -- he supports the Botafogo club -- and he's most looking forward to watching Neymar and Co. trying to end the country's Olympic gold medal drought.

"As many Brazilians, I am keeping my fingers crossed that we'll finally win gold in football," he said. "It's the only competition we haven't won in football. We were very close at the last Olympics, but we lost to Mexico 2-1."

Serra said Brazil will also field strong teams in judo and men's and women's volleyball, and that beach volleyball will make a "symbolic" appearance at its birthplace, Copacabana Beach.

Serra also discussed the role sports can play in diplomacy. He said the traditional Korean martial art of taekwondo has brought Brazilians closer to their Asian friends, and that Korean people love Brazil because of its football prowess.

"I believe in sports as a true means of bringing countries and peoples closer. This is one of the most important segments of people-to-people diplomacy," he said. "You influence countries not by invading your neighbors but because of your soap operas, songs, sports and culture. This is what people now call soft power. This is as important as military power and much more lasting."


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