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USOC Apologizes To Brazil For Bad Joke

In a joke that made Brazilians cringe and forced the U.S. Olympic Committee to apologize, a USOC worker scrawled "Welcome to the Congo!" on a board in the organization's Rio de Janeiro media center for the Pan American Games.

Rio's O Globo newspaper published a photo of the message on its front page Saturday, and ran a headline saying the joke was "full of prejudice." The message was condemned in a nation extremely sensitive about being compared to less-developed countries, especially by Americans — who often are perceived as arrogant by Brazilians.

The controversy occurred as American athletes arrived in Latin America's largest country to compete in the event that starts Friday.

The USOC issued a "deep apology to the people of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro" in a statement Saturday, and said the worker who wrote the phrase was disciplined and is no longer a member of the U.S. delegation to the games.

USOC officials also apologized in person to Rio Mayor Cesar Maia, senior officials of the Brazilian Olympic Committee and the Pan American Sports Organization. The USOC statement did not name the employee.

The picture in O Globo showed USOC media employee Kevin Neuendorf in front of the whiteboard, and the story quoted him as saying it was written because "it's really hot in Rio."

O Globo noted that Rio is in the middle of its South American winter, and that the USOC office at the games is air conditioned. The average temperature in July in Rio is 78 degrees — on Saturday, the temperature was in the low 80s.

On Rio's Copacabana Beach, Brazilians said it reinforced their belief that Americans frequently stereotype other countries.

"Americans are full of prejudices," said Alessandra Teixeira, a 29-year-old model. "Everything for them is bad, and they make it worse."

The newspaper also produced a full-page graphic showing a map of the globe, pointing out that the Congo is in Africa and an ocean away from Brazil. The graphic included bright red arrows and a headline in English and Portuguese, saying "Watch and Learn."

About 5,500 athletes from 42 countries across the hemisphere are expected to attend the Olympic-style July 13-29 games, as well as 2,000 delegation members, 3,000 journalists and 15,000 volunteers.

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