Rio Olympics will move to the heat of samba beat

2009-10-10 13:50

WHEN Brazil was awarded the rights to host the 2016 Olympic Games analysts were astounded, not so much because Rio de Janeiro had come out on top but because it had won so convincingly.

Everyone in Olympic circles had expected that the presence of Barack and Michelle Obama in Copenhagen would tilt the voting towards Chicago. In the end Obama was upstaged by the Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose impassioned speech to the International Olympics Committee (IOC) won over a majority of its members.

Da Silva was in tears when he realised the Games had been awarded to Brazil and said: “All those people who thought we had no ability to govern this country will now learn we can host the Olympics. The world has recognised that the time has come for Brazil.”

He played heavily on the fact that the people of the hosting nation make all the difference to the success of the Games.

“The opportunity is now to extend the Games to a new continent. It’s an opportunity for an Olympics in a tropical country for the first time, to feel the warmth of our people, the exuberance of our culture and the sensation of our joy,” he said.

All four of the finalists – Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo – had the conditions to offer the necessary infrastructure and security, but Rio (whose nickname is Cidade Maravilhosa or Marvellous City) is “the happiest city in the world”, according to a survey by Forbes magazine, said Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, prior to the vote by the IOC.

Ever since Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers appeared in the 1933 film, Flying Down to Rio, the world has been fascinated with Rio de Janeiro. Popular perception of the city is infused with images of starry-eyed youngsters dancing into the dusk, backed by imposing mountains and dark sea. That view has propelled Rio to the top of the list of the world’s happiest cities.

Famous for its yearly carnival, the second-largest metropolis in South America finished first among 50 cities in a recent City Branding Index survey conducted by market researcher Anholt GfK Custom Research North America.

“Brazil is associated with all these qualities of good humour and good living and Carnival,” says Anholt.

“Carnival is very important – it’s the classic image that people have of Rio and it’s an image of happiness. Brand Brazil is packed with images which are consistently held by millions of consumers all over the world – ecstatic samba dancing at festival time, the rainforests as endangered as they are exotic, sex, magic, beaches, sport, adventure, music, style, grace, joie de vivre.

“Brazil is the quintessential youth brand. It effortlessly elicits the range and type of associations in young people all over the world which brands like Nike or Pepsi would do anything to achieve.”

It is hardly surprising that Nike thought it worthwhile to invest over £100?million (about R1.2 billion) over five years into sponsoring the Brazilian football team, literally buying a share in the equity of Brazil’s Passion Brand.

In fact, the brand promise for 2016, Live Your Passion, which will be launched in dramatic fashion at Rio’s Copacabana New Year Party, plays heavily on “the Brazilian peoples’ way of getting passionately involved in whatever they do”, according to Carlos Nuzman, the president of Rio’s 2016 campaign.

Interestingly, two of Rio’s predecessors have made the top five happiest cities – the 2000 hosts, Sydney, at second spot, and the 1992 host city of Barcelona at third.

In fact, the much vaunted “Barcelona effect” turned the once gloomy destination into a global attraction. Barcelona has the best reputation of all for thoughtful post-Olympic infrastructure planning: a derelict industrial waterfront where the Olympics took place was transformed into a popular esplanade lined with affordable housing and subsequently a knowledge-industry hub for young creative talents in media, design and information technology.

The French historian, Fernand Braudel, wrote that “Happiness, whether in business or private life, leaves very little trace in history.”

But a perception of happiness leaves a strong trace on the balance sheets of cities that depend on conventions, tourism and an influx of talent.

Not only does happiness benefit destinations, but it equally holds rich returns in investment for organisations.

Most recently McDonalds SA won the much coveted Best Company to work for Award by Deloitte & Touche and revealed that its employees’ happiness has been a key factor in notching up record profits for the South African operation in the current financial year.

Importantly, the award of the 2016 Olympic hosting rights to Rio might spell opportunity for an African city to bring the world’s biggest sporting event to the one continent that has never staged it.

South Africa might very well be stimulated after the 2010 Fifa World Cup to put forward a city, possibly Cape Town or Durban, for hosting the biggest show on earth in 2020.

Dr Nikolaus Eberl is the author of the bestselling book, BrandOvation: How Germany won the World Cup of Nation Branding, and its sequel, The Hero’s Journey: Building a Nation of World Champions

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