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Brazil’s tourism board chief says no lasting damage from ‘Lochte mess’

Ryan Lochte, shown after competing in a heat during the 2016 Summer Olympics, has lost major sponsorships after telling a fabricated tale about being robbed at gunpoint during the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Ryan Lochte, shown after competing in a heat during the 2016 Summer Olympics, has lost major sponsorships after telling a fabricated tale about being robbed at gunpoint during the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. AP

Brazilians were steamed when Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte told a tale of armed robbery and a gun pointed at his head during a night on the town in Rio de Janeiro, but the head of Brazil's tourism board said Tuesday there was no lasting damage to Brazil's image.

“No, not at all — if anything it was quite the opposite,” said Vincius Lummertz, head of Embratur, in a phone interview from Rio de Janeiro. “The idea that the truth finally came out was good.”

After returning to the Olympic Village in the early morning hours of Aug. 14, Lochte, who was accompanied by three other members of the U.S. swim team when the incident unfolded, began talking about a harrowing armed robbery, possibly involving a police officer or someone posing as a police officer.

Brazilian investigators sprang into action and just as quickly the tale, which fed into perceptions of Rio as a crime-ridden city where not even Olympians were safe, began to unravel — but not before it caused one of the biggest scandals of the Rio 2016 Games

What actually happened, according to Brazilian authorities, is that the intoxicated swimmers stopped at a gas station in Barra de Tijuca, near the Olympic Village, to use the bathroom, vandalized the facilities and then got into a confrontation with armed security guards there.

“For us, it was good this was cleared up. Otherwise, it would have reinforced prejudices,” said Lummertz. “But overall the Games went very well; the images shown to the world speak for themselves.”

Lummertz noted that most Olympics have been held in rich countries or nations with autocratic governments. Brazil, a relatively young democracy, is neither, he said. “We knew we would be judged by standards outside our parameters,” said Lummertz.

In an interview with Brazilian network Globo, Lochte admitted he was “highly intoxicated,” and made “immature accusations,” adding that he was “110 percent sorry.”

Instead of a gun being pointed at his head, he amended, it was pointed in his direction.

“I over-exaggerated that story and if I had never done it, we wouldn't be in this mess. None of this would have happened,” he told NBC. Already it has cost him four major sponsorships, including a long-standing agreement with Speedo.

Scott Blackmun, U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive, said Sunday there would be “further action” involving the swimmers — although he wasn’t specific. “They really let down our hosts in Rio who did such a wonderful job, and we feel very badly about that. I think we ended up in the right place in terms of being able to shine a light on what really happened there.”

But with the Rio Games now in the rear view mirror, Lummertz was willing to be charitable. “One perspective that we haven’t heard too much is that human beings, even champions, are fallible. People make mistakes.”

But he said champions are public people and with their fame comes responsibilities.

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