2016 Olympics opens in Rio

4:14 pm on 6 August 2016

Rio 2016 Olympics - The 2016 Rio Olympics have officially begun, with the Olympic Cauldron now alight at Maracana Stadium.

New Zealand flag bearers Blair Tuke and Peter Burling take a selfie during the opening ceremony at Maracana Stadium.

New Zealand flag bearers Blair Tuke and Peter Burling take a selfie during the opening ceremony at Maracana Stadium. Photo: John Cowpland / www.photosport.nz

The opening ceremony - which ran for more than three hours - included music, dance and fireworks, with guest appearances from several high profile Brazillians, including Gisele Bündchen.

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More than 70,000 people packed into the venue to watch the spectacle, as thousands of athletes paraded around the stadium.

Four-time world champion sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who won silver at the London Games in 2012, led the New Zealand contingent wearing traditional Maori cloaks,

A former Brazilian marathon runner, Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, lit the cauldron to mark the beginning of the Games, after the football legend, Pele, pulled out due to poor health.

After seven years of preparations for the opening at the Maracana Stadium, organisers hoped the start of the Games would turn the page on months of bad publicity for Rio - from polluted water to faulty plumbing at the athletes' village and worries about the Zika virus.

Earlier former Brazilian women's volleyball player, Maria Isabel Barroso Salgado, lifted the flame beneath the giant statue of Christ that overlooks downturn Rio and the waters of Guanabara Bay.

"May this be the moment for us to overcome difficult times and to work as a team, to make our country and our world fairer and safer," said Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta, flanked by Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes.

Having won the Olympics in 2009 during an economic boom, Brazil has since slipped into its worst recession in decades and a political crisis that has deeply divided the nation of 200 million people.

The torch's three-month, 20,000km journey across Brazil ran into difficulties this week as protests flared in towns around Rio against the Games' $US12 billion price tag, at a time of high unemployment, rising crime and cutbacks to health and education spending.

Favela residents don't share glory

Residents of the Mangueira favela or slum, which overlooks the Maracana Stadium, expressed a mix of pride and disappointment as the Games opened.

"Look, we're extremely proud to be the host of the Games, but has there been any benefit to us?" asked Lilian Sales, a Mangueira resident.

"No, nothing has changed in my life because of hosting these Games and it's absurd to think that anything will change for my two children," said Ms Sales.

As Acelebrities swamped the Maracana for the opening ceremony, which celebrated the culture of favelas, slum dwellers looked on less than 1km away at the lights colouring the night sky.

"The world needs to know - I am here watching this spectacle from a slum right next to where they are opening the Olympics, and my life has not improved at all," said Jose Carmo, a 23-year-old construction worker who lives in Mangueira.

"It is frustrating to be so close to this spectacle and yet so far away, living in a place were we have no security, not even sewage," Carmo said.

Rio's Olympics are costing nearly $12 billion but critics argue even legacy projects like a new metro line, bus highways and massive real estate developments have done little to improve the lives of the city's marginalized.

-Reuters

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