I couldn't find an article about it until this morning.
In fact, there was no banner at the airport.
And no U.S. athlete held such a banner.
Apparently, in an office of the U.S.O.C., in Rio, a "media" employee of the U.S.O.C. wrote this phrase on a whiteboard in the office, which he claimed was a reference to the warm climate here.
There is an article (which is reproduced in its entirety below) about this on the site of msnbc at this link:
These are links to articles in Portuguese on the subject:
http://oglobo.globo.com/esportes/pan2007/mat/2007/07/07/296679916.asp (the comments below this article are fascinating)
Look, there was no comparison made between the countries of Brazil or the Republic of the Congo. A guy walked into a hot, humid office in Rio that had the air conditioner turned off. We North Americans have all grown up watching innumerable Tarzan movies, and in extreme humidity we are very likely to think of an African jungle named the Congo, and not the Amazon jungle. There was no insult to Brazil here. But it is assombrado how something like this can be blown out of proportion by the press here. You know, the Brazilian press has a lot to answer for.
This all reminds me of the hoax, circulating here in Brazil, that claims that American children are being taught that the Amazon rainforest belongs to the U.S.
A few years ago, an e-mail went all over Brazil, and it included an image of what was purported to be a page from a history textbook teaching that the Brazilian rainforest belonged to the Americans. I could not believe how many intelligent people fell for that immediately, in much the same way that they also immediately believed that the American pilots of the Legacy jet involved in the crash last year were doing loop-'d-loops over the Amazon jungle. Incredible! On close examination of the image of the hoax, it was very easy to discern that the English of the page from the "textbook" contained many errors commonly made by Brazilian students of English, for example, in the very first paragraph, the incorrect use of the verb "to pass." A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that one of my former students is still under this misapprehension, as are all of the students in her classes -- she teaches at a secondary school. (So, I taught her the word "hoax.")
' "Welcome to the Congo!" sign forces U.S. to apologize to Brazil
SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) -In a joke that made Brazilians cringe and forced the United States Olympic Committee to apologize, "Welcome to the Congo!'' was marked on a whiteboard at the USOC's office at the Pan American Games.
A photograph of the phrase in the office in Rio de Janeiro was published on the front page of Rio's O Globo newspaper on Saturday with a headline saying the joke was "full of prejudice'' as American athletes arrive to compete in the games, which start on Friday.
Rio Mayor Cesar Maia told CBN Radio it created a controversy in a nation that is extremely sensitive about being compared to much less developed countries.
The USOC issued a "deep apology to the people of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro'' in a statement on Saturday, and said the worker who wrote the phrase was disciplined and was no longer a member of the U.S. delegation. The person's name was not disclosed.
USOC officials also apologized in person to Maia, senior officials of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, and the Pan American Sports Organization.
The picture showed USOC media employee Kevin Neuendorf in front of the whiteboard with the phrase, and the story quoted him as saying it was written because "it's really hot in Rio.''
O Globo expressed doubt about the reason, noting that it was winter in Rio and the USOC office had air conditioning.
The newspaper also produced a full-page graphic showing a map of the globe, pointing out Congo and Brazil with bright red arrows with a headline in English and Portuguese, saying "Watch and Learn.''
About 5,500 athletes from 42 countries are expected at the July 13-29 games, as well as 2,000 delegation members, 3,000 journalists and 15,000 volunteers.'