POSTED: March 29th 2011

JOHN GOODBODY: Reality bites for IOC as euphoria fades over Rio 2016

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Mar 29: When Rio de Janeiro was awarded the 2016 Olympics it was a long-awaited breakthrough against the more powerful candidates in international sport. No South American or African country has ever staged the Games and Brazil was a front-runner for the honour, with its population of 191m and the world’s 10th largest economy.

So when Dr Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, announced in October 2009 that Brazil had beaten such established cities as Tokyo, Madrid and particularly Chicago, which unbelievably was eliminated in the first round despite the presence before the vote of its most famous citizen, Barack Obama,  the decision was seen as a seismic shift in international sports politics.

The IOC had decided not to go with a safe choice but with an inspired one.

Rio had responded  to failing twice to make the short list for previous Olympics by improving its candidature, including building new venues for the 2007 Pan American Games but, more important, it had persuaded the IOC that it could no longer ignore countries such as Brazil.

As its state President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said in Copenhagen, scene of the vote: "All those people who thought we had no ability to govern this country will now learn that we can host the Olympics. The world has recognised that the time has come for Brazil.”

However, despite the flourishing economy, Brazil has faced huge challenges (but then what Olympic city doesn’t have some?) . It has needed to construct half the stadium capacity it needs for 2016 as well as the Olympic Village for 25,000 people.

Before the vote, about £7bn had been set aside for infrastructure, which includes a rapid transit bus lines from the city centre and beachline neighbourhoods to the outer suburbs, where many of the events will take place.

Security also poses a problem with a high crime rate, not surprising given that about a million people squat in shanty towns in a capital, where six million people live.

Construction progress

However, there are already concerns, although no more than that at this stage, about the pace of construction. Brazil is, of course, staging the 2014 World Cup as well as the Olympics and although the World Cup is an infinitely less complex and demanding operation than the Games, it still demands renovation of stadia and detailed work on welcoming visitors.

Although the World Cup can be seen as an ideal preparation for a country also hosting the Games, the disadvantage is that until the 2014 tournament is over attention is divided over the two events.

Orlando Silva, the Sports Minister, has already tried to get the Brazilian Congress to slacken the  regulations for construction work so allowing private companies to bid for work, such as overhauling the airports, which are much needed to cope with the inflow of visitors.

It is very difficult for people to travel round the country to the other major cities, except by air. And FIFA is worried about how quickly the airports are being modernised.

As Silva himself said:”The pace of preparation and acceleration is strong, but there is much to be done to fulfil our international commitment.”

The IOC is watching carefully that it does not have to oversee another race to complete faciltiies in time as was experienced in Athens in 2004.

There is a lot of work to do in hosting the two major sports events in three years. And Brazil knows it. If the organisation of the two events is successful, then other South Americans and African countries will be encouraged to bid for the Games in the near future.

This is a further, although probably unwanted responsibility,  for Brazil but one that is important for international sport.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001

Keywords · John Goodbody · Rio de Janeiro · 2016 Olympic Games · IOC · Rogge · 2014 World Cup

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