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Dublin: 10 °C Monday 20 May, 2019
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Do more with less: Rio's iconic Maracana delivers another powerful opening ceremony

Let the Games begin.

A crowd of over 70,000 were inside the Maracana.
A crowd of over 70,000 were inside the Maracana.
Image: Andrew Matthews

– Ryan Bailey reports from the Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro 

IT WASN’T QUITE full to capacity but this iconic sporting stadium created a carnival atmosphere befitting of the occasion as the XV Paralympic Games were officially opened in style.

After weeks of troubled build-up, it made for a refreshing change that, for the first time, there was no talk of ticket sales or funding cuts or classification controversy. All that was put to one side.

For this was a night belonging to the people of Rio and the thousands of athletes from 159 competing countries. It was a night for the power, and beauty, of sport to prevail as people from all walks of life joined together for a party lasting over four hours.

The exhilarating performance explored the power of diversity with the help of 2,000 volunteers and a crowd of over 70,000.

The beauty was in its simplicity. A celebration of difference, the ability to do more with less and the courage, determination and bravery of each and every athlete to be part of this sporting extravaganza.

As the athletes — Ireland led by sailor and 11-time Paralympian John Twomey — entered the iconic venue, each country was represented with a piece of a puzzle, which came together to form one giant heartbeat in the centre of the stadium. Everyone has a heart was the message.

And it is great testament to the Paralympic Movement that it continues to break down obstacles for those who are presented with them and at the same time stimulate the world to change its prejudice of disabilities and disabled people.

2016 Rio Paralympic Games - Opening Ceremony Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

2016 Rio Paralympic Games - Opening Ceremony Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

At a time of great financial hardship and political unrest in this country, the doom and gloom that hangs over the Games was temporarily lifted as we were reminded of the capacity of these athletes to inspire and change a nation.

“The Paralympics will surprise you, inspire you, but most of all, they will change you,” Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, declared.

“Rio is powered by its people and the Carioca will know what these Games will do to drive the force of inclusion.”

But when Craven ended his speech and handed over to newly sworn in President Michael Temer, tensions flared, a stark indication of the disquiet which exists within Brazil.

Large sections of the crowd began chanting ”Out with Temer!” as he appeared at the ceremony just days after taking over from bitter rival Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached.

Temer’s hurried declaration of “I declare the Games open” was met by roar of boos, while Brazilian Olympics boss Carlos Nuzman had previously been forced to pause halfway through his speech due to locals voicing their displeasure.

2016 Rio Paralympic Games - Opening Ceremony Source: Andrew Matthews

Rio Paralympics Source: AP/Press Association Images

With the exception of the deafening welcome the host nation received upon entering the stadium, the loudest cheer of the night was reserved for eight children and their parents who took to the stage together bearing the IPC flag. A spine-tingling moment.

The ceremony, which began with American Aaron Wheelz free-wheeling down a 17 metre ramp in a wheelchair, told the story of inclusion, hope and unity. Three tenets of the Paralympic Movement.

And nobody embodied that more than Marcia Malsar. The former Paralympian stumbled in torrential rain shortly after she was handed the torch to a collective groan of anguish from all four corners of the stadium. But it soon rose to its feet as Malsar mustered the strength to get back up and complete her leg.

Set to a backdrop of joyous rhythms of samba singers, the ceremony’s last act was left to Clodoaldo Silva who lit the Paralympic flame to a vociferous roar from the stands. The heavens may have opened on the Maracanã but nothing was going to rain on Rio’s parade.

If you are yet to be fully convinced by the Paralympic Games, the next 11 days of competition will provide irrefutable evidence of the true definition of sport and the true definition of ability.

Do more with less.

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The Paralympic Games takes place between 7 and 18 September. Follow The42′s coverage from Rio here.

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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