POSTED: October 2nd 2014

JOHN GOODBODY: Rio seems to have turned the corner in Olympic preparations

The IOC final press conference for Rio 2016 / Rio 2016/Alexandre Loureiro
The IOC final press conference for Rio 2016 / Rio 2016/Alexandre Loureiro

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

(SFC) When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) comments on a city’s preparations for the Games, it is seldom derogatory. The IOC knows that the closer a city gets to hosting the Olympics, the less likely it is that it would even consider the possibility of moving the Games elsewhere. Therefore, it is nearly always encouraging in its statements, while still urging that no time can be lost.

There have been two striking exceptions in the last 20 years. In 2000,serious worries were aired publicly about whether Athens would be ready to host the 2004 Summer Olympics after it had spent the previous three years in doing far too little. The second was in April this year when John Coates, the Australian vice-president of the IOC, stated that preparations for Rio de Janeiro in 2016 were the worst in his considerable experience.

Admittedly, he and the IOC then back-tracked but there was no doubt that members of the IOC Co-ordination Commission, who oversee the build-up to the Games, were concerned about the slow pace of building venues as well as numerous other issues. IOC officials were even drafted in to help the Brazilians in their work.

What was therefore so cheering this week was that the tone of the IOC Commission after its latest visit to Brazil had definitely altered. Its chair, Nawal El Moutawakel, said: ”We leave Rio satisfied with the progress than has been made since our visit last March. The strong commitment of the Brazilian authorities to the success of the Rio 2016 Games has been underlined to us by the presence of President Rousseff during visit to the Olympic Park yesterday. We remain confident that, despite a very tight schedule, our Brazilian partners will deliver successful Games.” Rousseff was obviously pleased to be able have such a prominent role this week since it may help her in her campaign for re-election, the first round of which is on Sunday.

The tone of the IOC must also have been influenced by the success of the Fifa World Cup in Brazil last summer when it was expected the host nation would win the tournament but the staging of the event would be beset with difficulties and possible demonstrations against the cost of the competition as had occurred in 2013. In fact the reverse happened. Brazil lost in the semi-finals but the organisation and certainly the atmosphere received plaudits.

This does not mean that there are still no problems for Brazil with just under two years to go to the Games. A judge will shortly rule on whether the construction of the golf course, part of which is sited on a nature reserve, violates environmental regulations, thus raising the possibility that it may have to be redesigned.

There is also the need for the building of a 68 new hotels, as well as number several other venues, particularly in the Deodoro complex, where eight sports are being held, to be completed. But the IOC received “reassuring information” about their progress as well as that for the important transport links.

Then there is the need to solve the problem in Guanabara Bay, where the sailing events will be staged, and the level of pollution is 78 times above even the permissible level in Brazil. A large underground containment belt has to be installed.

And all this has to be carried at a time when the country is in recession, having endured two successive quarters of negative growth in the first half of this year. Still, while Christophe Dubi, the successor to Gilbert Felli as the new IOC director of the Olympic Games, admitted that work has “to be delivered on a day-to-day basis”, he added:” There is no express deep concern that keeps us awake at night.” The world is certainly gratified to know this.

** 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 · Olympics · Christophe Dubi · Nawal El Moutawakel · Carlos Nuzman

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