Olympics: Rio action starts in empty stadium as drugs storm rumbles
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — The first sporting action of the 2016 Olympics began in a nearly empty stadium on Wednesday as sport’s top court confirmed it had opened a record number of cases following the Russian doping scandal.
With the formal opening ceremony of the sporting spectacular just two days away, the women’s football tournament started with Sweden defeating South Africa 1-0.
There were just a few hundred spectators in the 60,000 Rio Olympic Stadium for the kickoff of the first of six games taking place across the country.
The stadium was closer to capacity for the second match at the same venue later Wednesday, when hosts Brazil, led by Marta, made their bow against China.
But tickets remained available for many top Olympic attractions coming up in the days ahead, including blue-riband athletics races such as the 100m final.
The women’s football tournament launched what Brazilian fans hope will be a golden campaign for their men’s and women’s teams.
The first matches of the men’s tournament will take place on Thursday, with Brazilian superstar Neymar spearheading the host nation’s quest for a first ever Olympic football gold medal — the only international title to elude the five-time World Cup winners.
The first sport of the Games came as a welcome diversion for Olympic chiefs, who have been mired in the fallout from the drugs scandal involving Russia.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said that a “record” 18 appeals, mostly involving Russian athletes, had been launched ahead of the Games.
CAS on Tuesday rejected appeals by 17 Russian rowers — treated as one case — against their exclusion from the Games.
With appeals involving a dozen other Russian swimmers, wrestlers and weightlifters still to be decided, the row over state-run doping blamed on the Russian government threatened to overshadow Friday’s opening ceremony.
International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach said the Russia scandal, which he has described as “contemptuous,” had exposed deficiencies in WADA.
“Recent developments have shown that we need a full review of the WADA anti-doping system,” he told an IOC session that continued Wednesday.
The IOC session meanwhile signaled its trend towards attracting the next generation of Olympic fans by announcing five new sports for the 2020 Games in Tokyo — surfing, skateboarding, climbing, karate and baseball.
“This is really a milestone in the innovation of the Olympic program, which we can then experience in four years from now in Tokyo 2020,” Bach said.
Ensuring security at the Games has been an ongoing headache for organizers in a region which has witnessed a 17 percent spike in murders in the first half of 2016, according to official figures.
Chinese athletes and officials say they have been affected by several cases of crime since arriving in Brazil for the Games.
Among the latest to register a complaint was Chinese hurdler Shi Dongpeng, who was quoted by state media as saying that his personal computer was stolen on arrival.
Denmark’s chef de mission Morten Rodtwitt told Danish broadcaster TV 2 that the country’s athletes had mobile phones, clothing, and an iPad stolen.
“It’s everything from phones, iPads and clothes to something as trivial as bed sheets,” Rodtwitt said, adding that he had his iPad stolen.
Elsewhere, US Olympic officials confirmed that swimming superstar Michael Phelps would carry his country’s flag into Friday’s opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium.
Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals including 18 golds, was chosen for the honor following a vote of Team USA members.
“I’m honored to be chosen, proud to represent the US, and humbled by the significance of carrying the flag and all it stands for,” said Phelps, who will be swimming in his fifth Olympics.
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