POSTED: January 6th 2016

JOHN GOODBODY: Rio 2016 should be O.K. - despite all its problems

Cleaners work on Guanabara Bay to remove debris on December 26, 2015 / Getty Images
Cleaners work on Guanabara Bay to remove debris on December 26, 2015 / Getty Images

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

(SFC) Suddenly all attention is focussed on Rio de Janeiro. The dawn of 2016 has meant that the interest in the Summer Games has escalated but so has concerns about how successful they will be.

There were worries before the 2014 FIFA World Cup that, although the Brazilians would revel in a victory for their famous football team, the transport would be inadequate and the administration haphazard. There were dire forebodings.

 In fact, the reverse turned out to be true, Brazil may have been knocked out in the semi-finals by the extraordinary margin of 7-1 by Germany, the eventual winners, but off the field, Brazil coped remarkably well with staging the event.

Of course, the FIFA World Cup is just one sport, albeit easily the most popular in the world, one sex and only 32 competing countries. It does not have the sheer scale and extraordinary diversity of the Olympics, being the world championships of 28 different sports, men and women, attended by more than 200 nations.

The build-up to the 2008 and 2012 Games was relatively smooth, making people forget how frequently there are major problems in staging the Olympics. And the road to Rio next summer has not been easy.

And there are still difficulties as 2016 begins. The Brazilian currency has dropped over 35 percent against the U.S. dollar over 2015, while the economy diminished by 3.5 percent over the last year and this contraction could be equalled in 2016. What was until recently a booming economy is in a downturn.

The Rio Health Sector announced a state of emergency last week as hospitals were closed only for the federal government and Rio state to step in with a package of $70 million in funding. But the fact that this had to be done demonstrates the worries.     

Another consequence was the announcement of a cut-back last October in the Olympic operating budget of $30 million. As Carlos Nuzman, the president of the organising committee, recognised at the time, the economic and political problems were a "challenge". One early consequence was that there will be no air conditioning in the rooms in the Athletes Village although temperatures in August can exceed 30 degree Celsius. 

The Olympic stadium for athletics, named unfortunately after the disgraced former FIFA President Joao Havelange, was closed in March 2013 because of damage to its roof but was reopened last year. However, it is now without running water and electricity because of unpaid bills. It apparently owes more than $220,000. It stages the athletics test event in May.

The administrators of the famous Maracana recently sacked 75 percent of the stadium's staff. This is because the 79,000-seat venue, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies as well as football matches, will be run during 2016 by the Olympic organisers, who have wanted to bring in their own staff for budgetary reasons.

There remain concerns about pollution in Guanabara Bay, where the sailing events are scheduled. Last year, 13 members of the American team had stomach problems during and after the world junior rowing championships. There have been assurances that the pollution problem will be solved but this has yet to satisfy many foreign officials.

The International Olympic Committee was quite right to send in a special task force in May 2014 after Australian John Coates, the IOC vice-president, described the preparations as "the worst I have experienced" and there has been much greater confidence now among the IOC Co-Ordination Commission. At least, all the venues have been completed, except for the Velodrome (76 percent) and Youth Arena (75 percent).

So will the Games be successfully staged? The answer is probably yes. However, the experience of Rio once again shows what a monumental task it is to stage the world's biggest sports event.

** 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 · Olympics · Rio 2016

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