Meet the Brazilian Jew behind Rio 2016

Nuzman, in charge of planning the next Summer Olympics, participated as a volleyball player in 1964 Games.

Brazilian Olympic Committee President Nuzman 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Sergio Moraes)
Brazilian Olympic Committee President Nuzman 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Sergio Moraes)
The next Olympics may appear far in the distant future, but Carlos Arthur Nuzman, president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, is hard at work preparing for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
All across the vast South American city famous for its sea, sand and samba, construction crews are busy digging tunnels, laying foundations for buildings and prettifying neighborhoods in anticipation of an event set to take place four years from now. Nuzman, a former volleyball player, a lawyer by profession and proud member of the local Jewish community, has the gargantuan task of overseeing the massive project.
“Every city in the world is unique and has its own characteristics,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday with The Jerusalem Post. “Rio de Janeiro offers to the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games the opportunity to host all the Olympic sports in the same city due to our specific geographic situation – the sea, beaches, mountains and a lake in the center of the city.”
He added that other important spheres were security and the movement of people.
“We are currently working with the municipality on transport: a new metro line and several other train lines,” he said. “In addition, we are working with the federal and state governments to prepare the security and police plan.”
As you might expect to hear from the head of the Olympic committee that will be hosting the next games, Nuzman said the massive resources his country is pouring into the event will create an infrastructure that will “the benefit all of society” long after it ends.
Another advantage of hosting the games in Rio, he said, would lie in putting the city on a long-term path of growth and prosperity after decades of stagnation following the relocation of the capital to Brasilia in 1960.
If one needs further proof of the good that hosting an Olympics can bring, Nuzman points to London. He attended the games that ended there last month, calling them “incredible and brilliant.”
Like his friend Sebastian Coe, the former runner and chairman of the London Organizing Committee, he, too, is a retired athlete. He was a member of Brazil’s volleyball team at the 1964 Games in Tokyo and took part in no fewer than four Maccabiahs in Israel, the sporting event often dubbed the “Jewish Olympics.”
“I participated in the Maccabiah in 1961, winning the bronze medal with the Brazilian team; in 1965, winning the gold medal; and in 1969 and 1973,” he recalled.
Nuzman, who has been back to Israel many times since, said he had fond memories of the country. “I am very happy and proud of Israel ever since I was there,” he said. “I have many friends in the country, like President Shimon Peres and Alex Giladi,” the head of the Israeli Olympic Committee.
In fact, he will return to Israel in December when he takes part in the European Olympic Committee gathering in Eilat.
“It will be a big celebration and I’m very proud to come with my wife,” he said.
Nuzman estimated that 25,000 Jews live in Rio, the second largest city in the country after Sao Paulo, and said the community was well served by synagogues, schools and other institutions.
Local tour guide Pedro Landsberg said Jewish “Cariocas,” as natives of Rio are called, are well-integrated with the rest of society. They suffer from relatively little anti-Semitism and tend to be secular.
“Their connection to the religion is mainly during the time of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur,” the guide, who shows tourists around the city’s Jewish sights, wrote in an email. “In my personal opinion it cannot be considered a very ‘tight-knit’ community, but also it is not a completely loose one.”
While preparations for the Olympics in Rio are well underway and visible across the city, another sporting event the country is about to host is competing for attention.
“First the Brazilian people are thinking about World Cup 2014, which will mobilize all of us,” said Sarita Schaffel, head of the Jewish Federation of Rio de Janeiro. “Then we will think about the Olympic Games. As you know, this is a characteristic of the Brazilians – to do things at the last minute.”
Perhaps that was the way things were in Brazil until now.
After all, this is the land that German-Jewish author Stefan Zweig famously called “the country of the future and always will be.” But for Brazilians like Nuzman, who are already at work on a dead line for four years from now, the future finally seems within reach.