Within days of describing preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympics as "the worst I have experienced," International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates back-tracked on the criticism and said he was confident Brazilian organizers will deliver a great event.
Coates, who has visited Rio six times as part of the IOC Coordination Commission which monitors preparations, said in a statement dated April 30 that organizers "recently took a number of measures designed to make sure that we can together deliver a great Games ... (and) a lasting legacy for the people of Rio and Brazil."
"Following my statements yesterday about the upcoming Games in Rio I want to underline that I still believe that (the) Rio organizing committee and the people of Brazil can indeed deliver excellent Games in 2016," he said.
Coates launched an unusually blunt warning during an Olympic forum in Sydney on Tuesday, saying the IOC had "become very concerned" because the Brazilians are behind "in many, many ways" and are in worse shape than Greek organizers were in preparing for the 2004 Olympics.
"And this is against a city that’s got social issues that also have to be addressed; a country that’s also trying to deal with the FIFA World Cup coming up in a few months," Coates told the forum, highlighting the problem-plagued preparations for the World Cup that kicks off in June.
Two years out from the Rio Olympics, the situation on the construction of games venues is just as bleak.
Work hasn’t begun at Deodoro, a complex for eight Olympics sports venues, and the course that will host golf’s return to the Olympic program for the first time in more than a century doesn’t have grass yet. Water pollution is a big worry for sailing and other sports.
The IOC attempted to defuse the tension following Coates’ initial comments with a statement outlining changes already underway in Brazil.
It mentioned working "with our partners" in Rio on measures to "support the games," including establishing joint task forces, a local construction manager and a high-level decision-making body "bringing together" the IOC, the government and all key partners of the project.
The IOC said there would be more "regular visits" to Rio by executive director Gilbert Felli, the senior troubleshooter sent to the city last week as part of a series of actions to tackle the delays.
Rio organizers responded to the criticism by saying they know what needs to be done, and cited "unequivocal signs of progress" recently in the city’s preparations.
"We have a historic mission: to organize the first Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brazil and in South America," the Rio committee said. "We are going to achieve this. In 2016, Rio will host excellent games that will be delivered absolutely within the agreed timelines and budgets."
Late Wednesday, Coates said he was heartened by reports from Felli on the progress and to hear that Rio was addressing the specific concerns of the 17 international sports federations that were raised at a meeting in Turkey last month regarding their venues.
"We are all buoyed by the positive response of the City Mayor Eduardo Paes and the Rio organisers today," Coates said. "The Mayor, Brazilian Government and organizing committee all have our full support and, as I said yesterday, there is no plan B. We have to make this happen by working together over the next two years."
Coates, the head of the Australian Olympic Committee and a key player in the leadup to the Sydney 2000 Summer Games, is chairman of the IOC’s coordination commission for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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