Rio 2016 Olympic crisis: 5 things to know
BELEK, Turkey (AP) Blame it on Rio.
That might as well have been the official slogan of this week’s Olympic gathering in southern Turkey.
This turned out to be the occasion when the long-simmering angst over Rio de Janeiro’s troubled preparations for the 2016 Olympics blew up into full crisis mode.
On the sidelines of the SportAccord convention in the Mediterranean resort of Belek, the International Olympic Committee executive board and summer sports federations raised the stakes over the critical delays threatening the first games in South America.
Here’s five things we learned about the turmoil in Rio:
ALARM BELLS RINGING
Everyone has known for some time that Brazil was lagging behind schedule. Until now, however, the IOC had kept relatively restrained with its no-time-to-lose warnings. But Turkey marked a tipping point when the IOC and sports leaders made their complaints loud and clear and exposed just how deep the crisis is, even deeper than it was for the 2004 Athens Games, previously considered the benchmark for organizational disorder. Venue construction delays are not the only concern. Worries are also mounting over accommodations, transport and water pollution. Some officials openly wondered about ”Plan B” contingencies. The IOC even refused to rule out moving the games – considered highly improbable at such a late stage. The message: With two years to go, the games need salvaging.
FELLI TO THE RESCUE
The man with the task of whipping Rio into shape is Gilbert Felli, the veteran IOC executive director of the Olympic Games. Already having been assigned to work on Rio once he steps down from his IOC role in August, the Swiss administrator is being dispatched to Rio next week to kick-start the process. No one knows the ins and outs of the management operations and deadlines for an Olympics better than Felli. But he’ll have his hands full. Three task forces are also being created and a local construction manager hired. Another key figure working behind the scenes with Felli will be American Olympic operations expert Doug Arnot.
PLEASE MR. MAYOR
The IOC went out of its way to single out Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes as a crucial player in the efforts to get the games on track. There has been deep frustration over the lack of cooperation on the Olympic project among the three level of government in Brazil. Local Olympic organizing chief Carlos Nuzman, the man credited with winning the games for Brazil, lacks the skills and political leverage that Sebastian Coe had in London. IOC President Thomas Bach and Felli both talked about the importance of Paes in facilitating funding for some of the construction, particularly for Deodoro, a complex for eight sports venues where work has yet to begin. ”The mayor is the one really acting to solve the problem,” Felli said. ”Be careful not to shoot at him.”
NO GRASS FOR GOLF
Perhaps the single sport most at risk is golf, due to return to the Olympic program for the first time in more than a century. Trouble is, the course at Venue Reserva de Marapendi, designed by American architect Gil Hanse, doesn’t even have any grass yet. Organizers say the grass installation will begin later this month, but can a world-class golf course be fully tested and ready within two years? Golf needs conditions that will attract the game’s top players. Officials may begin looking for an existing course – inside or outside Brazil – if progress isn’t made in a hurry.
Bach and Felli said they wouldn’t point fingers or blame anyone for the mess in Brazil. Critics could also take aim at the IOC for two things – giving the games to Rio in the first place, and waiting until now to raise the emergency alarm. (Juan Antonio Samaranch issued his famous ”yellow light” warning to Athens organizers four years before the games). Was it prudent to give Brazil the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics back-to-back? It’s hard enough for rich, developed nations to host both mega events. Five years ago, the IOC embraced the emotional and sentimental factors of taking the Olympics to a new continent. Today, the prevailing feelings are ones of dismay and anxiety.
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