POSTED: November 26th 2013

JOHN GOODBODY: Anxiety over Rio's ability to build Olympic venues

Renovations in Rio's port area  / Rio 2016 J.P.Engelbrecht
Renovations in Rio's port area / Rio 2016 J.P.Engelbrecht

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

(SFC) Rio de Janeiro faces a desperate race to be ready to stage the 2016 Olympics, with anxiety growing on whether the venues, transport and accommodation will all be finished and the necessary ‘test’ events held before the Games.

With fewer than 1,000 days to go before the opening ceremony, several officials and observers are now expressing their worry. The situation has even had John Coates, the Australian vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, to say that “the situation is more of a crisis than Athens”, referring to the 2004 Games, when after a series of warnings from the IOC, the facilities were only just completed in time.

Coates, a member of the 19-strong IOC Co-ordination Commission, is right to be concerned. When the Commission, which oversees the staging of the Rio Games last visited Brazil nearly three months ago, its chair, the former Morroccan athlete, Nawal El Moutawakel, said in an official statement:”The large amount of work still to be completed across the entire project means that time-lines remain very tight and Rio must continue to focus on its top priorities, such as completing the matrix of responsibilities and delivering the venues and associated infrastructure.”

Another member of the Commission told me privately that this was meant to be “a warning shot across the bows” of Rio. Of course, there are frequently worries before an Olympics about whether venues will be built on time but on this occasion, the problems seem more acute than usual for a country to solve, particularly when it has to stage the World Cup and the Olympics two years apart. Such work is a massive challenge.

The ground, where the Olympic Park is being built, is still an expanse of mud. Work on clearing the site began in July 2012 and infrastructure works on drainage systems, water, sewer, fire and electrical are said by Rio officials to be on schedule.

But the site, venue for the basketball, judo, taekwondo, wrestling, handball, hockey, tennis, cycling, aquatics and gymnastics events as well as the Main Press Centre (MPC) and International Broadcasting Centre (IBC) is already several months behind London at the equivalent period out from the Games -- for those sports which needed new venues for both Olympics.

However, the area , which is causing even more concern is the Diodorus Sports Complex, which will host nine disciplines, including the equestrian events and shooting. According to Brazil’s federal financial auditing authority (the Tribunal de Contas da uniao –the TCU), the venue is already behind by 15 months, caused by a mixture of bureaucracy, political indecision and corruption. Although Eduardo Paes, the Mayor of Rio, has insisted that the complex will be delivered on time, many observers remain worried.

There are other problems. Brazil suffered a blow to its international prestige earlier this month when the World Anti-Doping Agency withdrew accreditation from the Rio laboratory, meaning that it cannot be used for the World Cup. Samples in 2014 will have to be flown to Lausanne for analysis. There are now question marks on whether it will be ready for the more demanding task at the Olympics. Unlike football, some competitors, swimmers for instance, will be undertaking drug tests a day, or two days apart. Therefore, it is essential that no time is lost in transporting samples because otherwise a competitor could be taking part in a final, when he has already given an adverse urine or blood sample from an earlier event.

Rio was a brave choice by the IOC for the 2016 Olympics. Let us hope that it does not turn out to be a foolhardy one.


** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th 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 · Rio 2016 · Summer Games · Olympics

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