Rio mayor says he won’t bow to sports federations

Rio de Janeiro’s mayor has responded to the high number of complaints about the city’s preparations for the 2016 Olympics by saying sports federations are making too many unnecessary demands for the games.

Eduardo Paes said he expects federations to continue complaining until the start of the games, but that he will not bow to their pressure and will keep his focus on securing a legacy for Rio well beyond the Olympics.

In an interview with Brazilian reporters late Thursday, he said the federations are asking for too many "large things" that won’t be used by the city after the Olympics, so he will keep fighting to provide only what will be absolutely necessary to guarantee successful games in two years.

Earlier this month, in an unprecedented display of criticism against an Olympic host, 18 sports federations made public their widespread concerns over Rio’s preparations, with some sports asking about "Plan B" contingencies for their venues.

The complaints prompted the International Olympic Committee to send a senior troubleshooter to Brazil this week as part of a series of emergency measures to tackle the delays threatening the games. IOC executive director Gilbert Felli is already in Rio participating in closed meetings with local organizers.

"Probably these federations will keep complaining about me until the day the Olympics start, because sometimes they want us to do things that are too large," Paes said. "They are making demands about the stadiums, but I will not accept them."

The mayor cited as an example the International Tennis Federation, which asked the city to build a 20,000-capacity stadium for the sport during the games. Paes said the city didn’t need a venue that big, so a stadium for 10,000 people will be built instead, which he claimed would still be big enough for the tennis events in 2016.

ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti, who also heads the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, was one of the officials who recently spoke loudly about Rio’s chronic delays to get venues ready.

Paes said there have been many heated discussions behind closed doors with the federations, including with Ricci Bitti. Paes said the federations have the right to demand that there are no delays, but can’t expect the city to accept everything they request for their sport.

"We have made commitments and we will do everything possible to deliver what we promised without any delays and with the quality and the conditions needed for each sport to host their event," he said. "We are not going to deliver glamorous stadiums that will become `white elephants’ in the future, like Beijing did with the Birds’ Nest. My focus is on the legacy for my city. It’s good to know there are no delays on anything related to the city’s legacy, the demands are about the stadiums."

The IOC has gone out of its way to single out Paes as a crucial player in the efforts to get the games on track. 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 was yet to begin.

Paes said he "has no idea" exactly what Felli is doing in Rio, but reiterated his presence shouldn’t be characterized as an intervention from the IOC. He said he expects Felli to be trying to better understand the problems and see what needs to be done going forward.

"It’s important he is here and that we can provide him with more information," Paes said. "We asked to host the Olympics, so there is no reason for us to think we shouldn’t be held accountable. Felli is very welcome here."