Paddy Barnes leads Team Ireland into the opening ceremony of Rio 2016

Rio 2016 Olympic Games kick off with glittering ceremony at Maracanã stadium

paddy barnes

Paddy Barnes leads Team Ireland during the Rio Olympic Games 2016 opening ceremony | Image: AP Photo

The Rio 2016 Olympic Games have begun with a spectacular opening ceremony at the Maracanã that attempted to banish the pessimism which has dominated the build-up.

Paddy Barnes carried the Irish flag at the head of Team Ireland, who were the 99th out of 206 nations to march into the stadium.

The Russian team, here despite demands for a blanket ban for state-sponsored doping were greeted by polite applause, in contrast to the refugee team, appearing for the first time.

The four-hour show culminated with the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron by former marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima, an embodiment of sportsmanship since he was denied a gold medal when he was attacked two miles from the finish line by a spectator.

He stepped in after Pele withdrew citing frailty following surgery on his hips and knees.

De Lima was a worthy replacement, but the absence of the most recognisable Brazilian sportsman on the planet was somehow fitting with the pared down nature of Rio's opening night.

The budget for the ceremony had been slashed in half and the restrictions of the venue made this a more low-fi affair than Danny Boyle's London 2012 spectacular, or the awesome son et lumiere expression of Chinese state power in Beijing in 2008.

It was cut through with an environmental message, with even the rings revealed in leaves, a reminder that Brazil remains home to the world's largest expanse of rainforest.

Its future, ran the argument of Fernando Meirelles' storyline, and by association that of the rest of the planet, is in peril because of deforestation.

So the athletes were recast as a "planters army," each given a tree seed that they placed in a pod, which will in turn be planted in an "Athletes forest" near one of the venues.

The ceremony told the story of Brazil's development, from pristine rainforest occupied by indigenous peoples to a nation of teeming cities and agricultural plenty, via the colonial influxes and the introduction of slavery.

The mood was not all serious. After Giselle Bundchen turned the stadium into a catwalk in her role as a super-model girl from Ipanema, a sequence showcased the street dance and music of the favelas. 

Gisele Bundchen walks on stage as The Girl from Ipanema | Image: AP Photo

This was followed by a gear-change as organisers warned of environmental Armageddon, complete with a map of Rio's beaches being submerged by rising waters.

The Games were declared open by acting president Michel Temer, who restricted himself to just 14 words but was loudly booed.

A demonstration against him on Copacabana Beach took place in the afternoon, a reminder of the turmoil that has dogged these Games.