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Rio 2016 Games: Work started, much still ahead

Published July 15, 2012 11:31 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Rio de Janeiro • Rio is waiting.

As soon as the London Games end, the focus will shift to South America where, in 2016, the Olympics will be staged for the first time.

Rio should be in a good position to deliver the goods, especially since it's already preparing to host the 2014 World Cup and because it's taking advantage of some of the infrastructure and sporting venues built for the 2007 Pan American Games.

Still, there are many challenges.

Ongoing legal disputes, a worrisome hotel infrastructure and the large number of projects needed to be carried out simultaneously as the games approach are some of the obstacles that could end up derailing some of the city's plans. Although the International Olympic Committee says Rio has made great strides in its preparations, it has just warned organizers that the deadlines are getting tighter and the workload is increasing.

"There is large volume of work that needs to be accomplished between now and 2016," said Nawal El Moutawakel, leader of the IOC coordination commission for the Rio Games. "There is no time to waste. The clock will be ticking on Aug. 12 when your mayor will be carrying the flag (after closing ceremonies in London). All the spotlight will be on Rio."

More than 230 projects will have to be completed by the 2016 Games, and 66 are finished or are in an advanced stage. Many of the projects are scheduled to begin in 2013 and all of the sports venues must be ready between mid-2015 and early 2016 for test events, according to the IOC, which, beginning next year, will start making two annual full visits to inspect the city's preparations.

"The challenges become greater as the project advances," Rio 2016 organizing committee chief executive officer Leonardo Gryner told The Associated Press. "It's always critical when you have to do a lot of things at the same time. When you have many projects simultaneously you take more risks. But we remain confident. We are working to make sure we can anticipate the problems and take the necessary measures to keep preparations on track."

For organizers, one of the biggest concerns from the beginning has been to make sure the city will have enough hotel rooms to accommodate the tens of thousands of visitors, officials and members of the media.

The IOC noted that although there is strong interest in new hotel projects in Rio, a "large number" still need be put in place to "fill the gap" presented at the time of the bid.

"This has always been our weakness since the bid," Gryner said. "There's been an increase in the number of hotels already and it's continuing to increase. In the beginning of next year we will look at what we have and evaluate how many rooms we will have to provide in new accommodation villages."

The number of housing villages to be constructed will depend on the availability of hotel rooms expected in 2016. Cruise ships will also help ease the problem after the expected construction of a new pier and port upgrade in the city.

The IOC said the project of the port can be considered one of the priorities for local organizers, along with setting the deadlines and establishing the work needed for the Olympic Park and the Deodoro complex, which will host several sporting venues.

"All Olympic projects have a priority," IOC executive director Gilbert Felli said. "But we need to have a good understanding about the port because we will have eight boats there with 12,000 people, 10,000 people, so we need to understand all the connections when you get out of the boats and how you are going to get your transportation to go to the venues. We have working groups with the different levels of government and they have deadlines to come back and respond."

The IOC also said it is imperative local governments work closely together so all the needed projects can be completed for the games.

"I remain confident in the integration and unity between the three levels of government, Rio 2016 and other stakeholders, which is crucial for the success of this project," Rio 2016 Olympic committee president Carlos Nuzman said. "We acknowledge all the advice and the constructive feedback we have received from the IOC."

Local organizers also acknowledge that after the London Games the level of scrutiny on everything related to the 2016 Olympics will increase as much as the city's responsibilities. There's already been criticism over human rights violations, overspending and fears of a wasted legacy.

The eviction of thousands of families because of Olympic projects, especially in slums and poor neighborhoods, has prompted both Amnesty International and the United Nations to call attention to allegations of rights abuses, although city authorities have been defending their actions by saying it has all been done in accordance with the law. The city says U.N. officials have recently seen from up close that the families are being properly reallocated.

"The impact the games are having on these families is being forgotten," said Orlando Alves Jr., who works at an urban planning institute at the Rio de Janeiro Federal University. "The Olympics will benefit many people who will be making money because of the games, but there is a hidden legacy that is not being made public and is not being taken seriously by authorities."

The Olympic Park, the heart of the games, will be built in an area where families will be displaced, and legal actions prompted by the evictions briefly affected the project's bidding process.

The Olympic Park also was affected by a dispute with the Brazilian auto racing federation over where to relocate the city's Jacarepagua track, which will be lost to the project.

During its last inspection in June, the IOC expressed concerns over the Olympic Park, which will host several sporting venues and the main media centers, but said it was satisfied with the solutions found by local organizers. Construction at the park is expected to get under way in August.

But there is no solution yet for the legal dispute over land for the golf course, which will host the return of the first Olympic tournament after an absence of 110 years. Although two developers are fighting for the land where the course is expected to be built, the city already has announced a deal with one of the reported owners.

The case is in the hands of Brazil's Higher Court of Justice and a final ruling could take months or even years. The course's construction is expected to begin in October, and it is touted as one of the games' greatest legacies because it will remain a public venue.

But many local groups argue whether the Olympics will bring many real benefits for the city after the event ends. They say there has been excessive spending for some projects that will only be effective during the games and won't improve the city in the long term.

"The new subway line is a great example," said Gustavo Mehl, a member of the watchdog group Comite Popular, which is monitoring the city's preparations for the World Cup and the Olympics. "The original project would have helped many more residents, but they changed it to fulfill the needs of the Olympics."

There are also complaints over the high costs of Maracana stadium, which was renovated for the Pan Am Games in 2007 and now is being upgraded again for the World Cup and the Olympics.

Rio 2016 organizers will be observers at the London Games, hoping to learn from the event's successes and mistakes.

"This will be a great opportunity for Rio organizers to get a firsthand look at what it takes to host an Olympic Games, enabling them to refine their plans and streamline their operational processes," the IOC said.

Rio will get its first moment in the spotlight during an eight-minute segment at the closing ceremony in London.

After that, it's showtime.

"We have a gigantic job to do," Nuzman said.

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