Olympics officials: Rio won’t be scarred by politics, graft
The Rio de Janeiro Olympics won’t be scarred by the impeachment proceedings against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a USD 3 billon corruption scandal touching scores of powerful politicians and businessmen, and the country’s deepest recession in decades.
That was the message from Rio organizers and International Olympic Committee inspectors, who completed their final official tour of Rio’s preparations with South America’s first games opening in under four months.
“Despite the hardships and hard economic conditions, they are on target,” said inspection team member Patrick Hickey of Ireland.
But Hickey also suggested lowering expectations, saying the games won’t be like those in London four years ago or Beijing in 2008.
“It’s going to be a different games but it will work,” Hickey said. Nawal El Moutawakel, the head of the inspection team, said turmoil in the country wasn’t having an impact on preparations but that much remained to be done. She termed the venues “98 percent complete.”
“There remain 114 days to go and thousands and thousands of little details are yet to be managed,” she said. “Their timely resolution will make the difference between an average Olympic Games and a great Olympic Games.”
Despite the optimism, Brazil’s government is nearly paralyzed with barricades around government offices in Brasilia to separate anti- and pro-government protesters as the lower House of Deputies prepares to vote on the impeachment measure on Sunday.
Rousseff has often mentioned the games in recent speeches.
“If we are capable of organizing the Olympics, if we are capable of organizing the Paralympics, then we are capable of making our country’s economy grow again,” Rousseff said last week at the Olympic swimming venue.
Rio’s games have myriad problems away from the venues. U.S. health officials confirmed Wednesday that the Zika virus causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads. The unequivocal finding could keep tourists away from Rio, and could be bad news for young athletes particularly young women.
Brazil is at the epicenter of the outbreak.
“There is no longer any doubt that Zika causes microcephaly,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden said.
Rio spokesman Mario Andrada said games organizers would continue to take advice from the World Health Organization.
“We will follow WHO instructions to the letter,” Andrada said. Ticket sales are slow. Rio ticket director Donovan Ferretti said 60 percent of Olympic tickets were sold, and 22 percent for the Paralympics. Organizers hope sales pick up after Thursday’s draw for the Olympic soccer tournament.
Venues for sailing, rowing, canoeing and open-water swimming contain high levels of viruses and, in some cases, bacteria from human sewage.
Organizers have repeatedly said the waters are safe, which contradicts an independent study done over the last year by The Associated Press.
A USD 500 million cut to balance the operating budget will impact everything from food service to transportation, to resources for the opening and closing ceremonies. Seating has also been reduced at several venues and thousands of volunteers have been cut.
Sidney Levy, the CEO of the Rio organizing committee, said the critical subway line extension will be running “a month before” the
Olympics open Aug. 5. He called it a “soft opening,” suggesting service would be reduced. The extension is the major project linked to the games, connecting Ipanema and Copacabana to the western suburb where the Olympic Park is located.
The state of Rio de Janeiro has cut its policing budget by USD 550 million, putting Olympic security into question.
Brazil will employ about 85,000 soldiers and police at the games. A Rio de Janeiro city councilman has asked for an inquiry into possible corruption in Olympics projects, and a judge has ruled that the probe should go forward. The federal police are also conducting an investigation.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, who has guided much of the Olympic spending through the city hall, has said repeatedly there are no charges against him although “everyone is crazy to find (some).”