POSTED: April 18th 2014

JOHN GOODBODY: Rio must waste no time for 2016 Games

Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas will be one of the venues of Rio 2016 / Chensiyuan
Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas will be one of the venues of Rio 2016 / Chensiyuan

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

(SFC) We have been here before. Many Olympics have had problems in both the building of venues on time and also carrying out the extensive preparations that are required for the Summer Games. It is, therefore, an indication of how relatively smoothly the build-up and indeed staging of the 2008 and 2012 Olympics went that the contrast with Rio de Janeiro is so stark.

There were, after all, widespread concerns before the 2004 Games, with the IOC giving a severe warning to Athens in 2000 that work had to accelerate. As happened then and has always previously happened in preparations for the Games, everything was in fact completed on time. Athens may have engagingly laughed at itself by having two workmen with their tools simulate some last-minute repairs during the opening ceremony in 2004 but this did not disguise some genuine anxiety that the Greeks would pull it off.

Just how concerned many people are about 2016 was shown last week when 18 members of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) expressed their worries to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about the slow progress in Brazil, already under pressure because of the country staging the Fifa World Cup this year.

Only two international governing bodies, volleyball, whose President, Dr.Ary Graca, is Brazilian, and  weightlifting did not support the statement to the IOC. Basketball even suggested that some events might be moved to other cities in Brazil if the venues in Rio could not be built in time.

There are also the current strikes by construction workers and even reports of strikers and police engaged in a brief gun battle. A central problem seems to be the lack of co-ordination between the  authorities at the different levels of government: national, state and city. The details of a recent meeting between these authorities and the Rio Organising Committee were not disclosed but the Brazilian Sports Ministry insisted afterwards that “deadlines will be met.”

The IOC has a difficult role here. It needs to be both supportive of any organising committee but also constantly urging that no time can be lost. It knows that any threats such as moving the Games elsewhere is pointless because there is not sufficient time for an alternative city to prepare and, in any case, there is a legal agreement between the IOC and the organisers.

Instead, the IOC has reacted with common sense. The Executive Board has set up three task forces in conjunction with the Brazilian authorities to oversee progress over the next two years. These task forces will focus on construction of venues, the operations of the Games and engagement with the local population. A project manager will be brought in to scrutinise progress. The IOC will underwrite the financial cost of these appointments.

Thomas Bach, the IOC President, said after the Executive Board meeting: ”You have heard about preparations for Rio and we knew about these concerns because of the excellent work of the Co-ordination Commission”(which oversees the preparations of each Games  for the IOC).

“We had a very constructive atmosphere with our partners in Rio and we are undertaking all the measures to make the Games successful. We still believe that they will deliver an excellent Games if the appropriate actions are taken now.”

The crucial word in that last sentence is ‘now’. Gilbert Felli, the IOC Executive Director, will be visiting Brazil shortly and will no doubt lay stress on that important word.

** 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 · John Goodbody · Rio 2016 · IOC · summer Olympics

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