Mammoth Lines Mark Opening of Rio Games as Organizers Apologize

  • Brazil fans eager for beach volleyball face 2-kilometer queue
  • Organizers call more staff to manage access in sweltering heat

Thousands of Brazilian beach volleyball fans clad in their nation’s yellow shirts sweltered in lines as long as 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) to see their men’s team compete on the first day of Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Games.

The situation wasn’t better elsewhere Saturday, as organizers struggled to get crowds through the gates at venues across the city as temperatures touched 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), leaving spectators complaining and organizers apologizing.

The issues were similar at Friday’s opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium, where a shortage of security scanning machines meant waits of an hour or more.

“We apologize to all spectators who have had to queue on the first day of competition. We are fully aware of the problem and frustration,” Rio 2016 organizers said in an e-mailed statement. “We requested that the relevant authorities increase the speed and effectiveness that people can enter the park by requesting that more employees are working on the X-ray machines.”

Brazil isn’t an Olympic force; its best competitive showing came in London four years ago with a 17-medal haul that included three golds. That has led to significant interest and expectations for its beach volleyball team to deliver success at the home games. The sport is among the most popular locally, and Brazil’s teams have won gold or silver in every men’s and women’s competition since 1996.

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Though ticket sales have been sluggish, with a million unsold on the eve of the games, beach volleyball has proved popular. As the men’s pair of Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt prepared to start their competition opener, a line stretched as long as 2 kilometers to get into the cavernous temporary venue on the sands of Copacabana beach. That meant many ticket holders, including Douglas Fidalgo, 43, missed large portions of the pair’s 2-0 victory over Canadians Sam Schachter and Joshua Binstock.

‘The Last Minute’

Fidalgo, an auctioneer from Sao Paulo, said he had a late night after attending the opening ceremony, and arrived Saturday when the line was at its peak. He only managed to catch the last five minutes of the Brazilian team’s victory, after a 90-minute wait.

He said Brazilian sports fans should share part of the blame. “I am a little bit sad, but the reality is we always arrive at the last minute, and the security here makes it worse,” Fidalgo said while stuck in another long queue at a concession stand. "For the next events I’ll definitely go earlier."

Rio’s level of security is unprecedented for the city, and has required officials to be trained to use new equipment for the first time. A gray naval vessel patrolled the ocean just behind the beach volleyball arena, a sign of reassurance from the host country amid fears the games could be a terrorist target.

“There are people working from the National Force, the military and Rio’s military police, and each force and group of people have different methods of working,” said Rio 2016 communications head Mario Andrada. “Today at the Olympic Park we had a lot of people and there were problems because we lacked coordination.”

The International Olympic Committee’s spokesman, Mark Adams, said that although he didn’t want to play down the problems, issues like Rio’s echoed those encountered at the beginning of previous games in Sochi, Russia, and Vancouver.

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