Rio 2016: What to expect from the opening ceremony

Brazil will put its best foot forward Friday night when the Olympic Games kick off at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC. But soccer legend Pele will not be lighting the Olympic cauldron.

Wong Maye-E/AP
Brazil's Jackson Oliveria takes part in a training session at the Maria Lenk Aquatic Center ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday.

All eyes are on Brazil tonight as the country hosts the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

Millions are predicted to view the opening ceremony, which will feature plenty of South American culture, including local history, diversity, and even samba dancing, the Associated Press reports. 

"Smile is the approach the Brazilians have toward life," executive producer Marco Balich told the AP. "Brazil is not a grand nation. They're saying in this ceremony, we are who we are, with a lot of social problems, a lot of crises in the political system, etc."

The ceremony, which will feature 4,800 participants, is built on three pillars of Brazilian culture: sustainability, joy in the Brazilian identity, and a uniquely Brazilian quirk of making repairs from whatever materials are available, called “gambiarra.”

Brazil has forged forward with Olympic preparations, despite concerns about the political situation in the country and its environmental preparedness for the Olympics.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was suspended in May after national protests, when it was revealed that she had manipulated government accounts.

More recently, doctors and environmentalists have expressed concern about the quality of Rio’s aquatic facilities, including areas in which open water swimmers, sailors, and other water-based athletes are expected to compete.

Nevertheless, organizers have found a way to address several of Brazil’s problems while celebrating the host country. Event directors say the ceremony will have a heavy focus on environmentalism and global warming, and will include references to Brazil’s reforestation efforts in the Amazon rainforest.

"The world is very tense and so is Brazil. We are also willing to tell the world to stop attacking our home," said one of the show's directors, Fernando Meirelles, according to the AP. "The world is threatened because of global warming. We are calling for action."

Olympic organizers had hoped to welcome native hero Pele, a world famous soccer legend, for the lighting of the cauldron. Pele has been decorated by the International Olympic Committee for his athletic contributions, including being named athlete of the century in 1999, although he has never participated in the Olympics himself. But the Brazilian star said Friday that he would not be able to light the cauldron in the stadium Friday night. "I'm not in physical condition to take part in the opening ceremony," he said.

The opening ceremony is expected to last about three hours, and will take place in the Maracana soccer stadium. There will be two Olympic cauldrons: one in downtown Rio, and one at the stadium.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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