“Peace and love, Australia, please!”
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes flashes a peace sign at the camera, and with that he both pleads for a fair go, and signals his exasperation with Australian Olympic officials, and all pre-Games critics.
Mr Paes is Rio’s ultimate salesman and he is on the front foot about those people — especially Australians it seems — who misjudge his city.
His strong personality has made him one of the most popular political figures the country has seen and his attention has been aimed squarely at the Olympic Games during his eight-year term.
He told the ABC Rio would defy the world’s narrow expectations.
“We are working with contingencies, but things are on time, on schedule. We are going to show that Brazil and Rio is something more than nice beaches and great parties and good music and beautiful people,” he said.
“That this is also a place that, in spite of all the problems, there are people that work hard and deliver things on time, [on budget], the proper way; I would say more an Australian way.”
But Australians, he said, were the ones most likely to “bring bad news”.
“It’s amazing — all the bad news comes from Australia!” he said.
Tensions flare over preparations, rules for Australian athletes
Tensions were raised when Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president John Coates in 2014 said Rio’s preparations were “the worst” he had ever seen.
Last month, Mr Paes also hit out at news the Australian Olympic Team would be banned from visiting favelas due to safety concerns.
At the time, the Mayor was quoted as calling the Australians “aggressive”, but he said that was lost in translation.
“I like Coates a lot. John Coates is a nice guy. I think he voted for us. Hope he doesn’t regret it,” he said.
“No, I didn’t say aggressive. Translation is always dangerous … let me give a good translation: bringing all always bad news, complaining about Rio and the Olympics here.
“I understand that. I mean, when you look at developed countries like Australia, when you look at a country like Brazil — now it’s worse especially because of all the problems, political and economic problems we are facing — there is this view of uncivilised Brazilians there, in this tropical jungle, come on, what are these guys going to be doing.
“So you are here, you see it’s not like that.
About the Australians’ ban on entering favelas, he said: “Peace and love Australia, please!
“When you say ‘don’t go to the favelas’, it sounds a little bit prejudiced, against the poorest people of our city which we are very proud of.
“It’s a part of the city. It’s our reality, we are not ashamed about favelas. We are not … they are nice places to go, beautiful places to go,” he said.
Mr Paes said obviously safety measures would need to be taken, and indicated that ultimately he would accept the ruling — it is just another thing on Australia’s bad news list.
“It’s OK to do it. I don’t complain, but what I say is it always comes from Australia,” he said.
‘Don’t come to Brazil waiting for Australia’
Amid concern about stadium readiness, logistics and water pollution less than five months from the Games, Mr Paes acknowledged there had been “missed opportunities”.
“We have a lot of problems. I don’t say that the problems that people point to, are not problems. I mean if you look at the Games there are some missed opportunities,” he said.
“One is the [water pollution targets] at Guanabara Bay. We got better, but we didn’t solve the problem. So I think we are delivering much more than what we said. What we want people to have is a clear view … to be fair to us.”
He said Rio won the bid not because it was better than its rivals, but worse —the Olympic movement wanted to enrich his city with an understanding of the difficulties that lay ahead.
“Look at this country from a different perspective. Don’t come to Brazil waiting for Australia. We are not like you. We haven’t got there yet. We are working hard to get there but we haven’t got there yet … so come with more open heart and open minds,” he said.