Sport over-rides politics as English and Argentines enjoy Rio rugby 7s in harmony

Copacabana beach, Rio.
Copacabana beach, Rio.
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Former Royal Lancaster Infirmary consultant anaesthetist Dr John Davies is volunteering in the medical team at the Rio Olympics. Here’s part three of his diary...

“Beach volleyball was invented in the 1920s, shortly after its gymnasium forerunner, and probably in California, but its spiritual home could be just as well be the Copacabana beach in south Rio.

England v Argentina in the Rugby 7s in Rio.

England v Argentina in the Rugby 7s in Rio.

A gentle curve of perfect sand between two headlands, gentle surf although the red flags were flying because of rip currents, the view from the top of the scaffolding grandstand that surrounds the court in three sides is wonderful.

The sand, the headlands, the great morros that surround Rio, in including Sugarloaf itself, the view is only made less by the high rise buildings that line the foreshore.

Security was no less too, soldiers on hand, intense examination of bags and any metal you carry, as usual, but here we also had a naval frigate patrolling only a hundred metres off shore.

We were there as ordinary paying customers, not medics. Tickets are distributed to National Olympic Committee members, find their way into the hands of the less influential and to my colleague, who kindly invited me along.

Brazilian Navy patrol the beach volleyball in Rio.

Brazilian Navy patrol the beach volleyball in Rio.

We were only a few rows from the top of the stack, which was good as what little breeze there was found us.

How the people down at the front put up with the bright midday sun, I don’t know.

I have enough sun exposure on my skin (on purpose before I travelled) to avoid sun damage but I thought I was burning and retreated to the shade for a while.

We discovered that in the next row were a quartet of young British teachers who, disillusioned by the English school system, have been travelling the world for the past year.

Their itinerary has been extraordinary; across Asia by Trans-Siberian Express, to Japan and then India, they have explored most of South America to get to Rio.

Next back across the Pacific to Vietnam, and supporting themselves by teaching English all the way!

With only my European travels behind me, I felt quite parochial.

Oh! The volleyball? The USA men beat the Brazilians, leading to an exodus of the stadium, and the Polish ladies beat the Russians,to great acclaim!

The Olympic Park in Teodoro, north of central Rio, is on what must be Brazil’s Catterick Army base and Aldershot combined.

Long roads, lined by white-painted kerb stones and the head quarters of regiments of cavalry (who still wear their knee length riding boots with full camouflage battledress), mountain troops, even Commandos.

The gentle and polite soldiers tolerate these undisciplined civilians in their military township and even smile while the sergeant in charge of the security checks is almost friendly, in good English. Despite my well practiced “good evening” my Portuguese deceives no one!

And more politics in sport today, as I was able to buy an American National Olympic Committee ticket to the Rugby 7s.

I played (badly) as a youth, my daughter was an international, so this sport I have to see!

It’s winter in Rio, and for the first time today there was no sun, but still shirt sleeves temperature – until the rugby started and it rained, but the political temperature went up as the rain brought it down.

The evening’s programme included a quarter-final between the GB team and...Argentina.

My ticket wasn’t special, sit anywhere so I did, and only later realised that I was in the middle of Argentinians, who were very nice about it, despite the many Argentine flags including one that proclaimed, “They’re our Malvenas!”

They were all happy to shake my hand despite the fist clenching ending to the match.

No score at full-time, so play restarted in a “sudden death”, first to score wins, extra time.

The Argentine gave away a penalty in their own half and although it was well to the side, GB went for a goal kick – and it bounced off the goal post!

Finally, GB scrambled a try right in the corner and they are in the semi-final! They will face South Africa, whose playing wasn’t as good, so fingers crossed!”