THE CAR­NI­VAL’S ON, BUT IS RIO READY?

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - An­drew Downie

Brazil has long been known as a coun­try that can throw a great party as long as the guests do not mind a lo­ca­tion that still has the builders in it. With 100 days to go be­fore the Olympic Games be­gin in Rio de Janeiro, the na­tion fa­mous for do­ing things at the last minute faces a novel sit­u­a­tion: The venues are ready, but the host does not ap­pear to be.

With the coun­try’s president fight­ing im­peach­men­tandtheecon­o­my­on­track for its worst re­ces­sion in more than a cen­tury, Brazil­ians are both an­gry and dis­tracted. “Peo­ple are pay­ing no at­ten­tion” to the Olympics, said Rio res­i­dent Ju­lia Michaels, who chron­i­cles the city through her Rio Real blog. “No one is talk­ing about it at all be­cause there are so many other things to talk about.” When Rio de Janeiro won the right to host the Games in 2009, Brazil was the dar­ling of the de­vel­op­ing world. Its econ­omy had grown briskly for most of the decade, 30 mil­lion peo­ple had been lifted from poverty and the na­tion was as­sum­ing a prom­i­nent role in world affairs. Since then, a col­lapse in com­modi­ties prices has dragged down the econ­omy, and president Dilma Rouss­eff faces the prospect of be­ing sus­pended from of­fice next month on charges of bud­getary fraud.

The twin melt­downs in pol­i­tics and the econ­omy have con­sumed Brazil, and the Olympics have all but dis­ap­peared from the front pages and TV news. In a na­tion where football has long been the sport that mat­ters, pol­i­tics is the only game in town.

AL­MOST READY

The venues are com­plete ex­cept for the velo­drome, which will not be ready in time for an of­fi­cial test event, and the athletics sta­dium, where the run­ning track is be­ing laid. Of­fi­cials say both will be fin­ished well be­fore the Games be­gin on Au­gust 5. Some 36 test events have taken place at are­nas and sta­di­ums as well as on the area’s beaches and moun­tains.

But the deep re­ces­sion has prompted last-minute cut­backs. Or­gan­is­ers with­drew plans for tem­po­rary seat­ing at some venues, re­duced the num­ber of vol­un­teers and brief ly con­sid­ered scrap­ping plans to pro­vide ath­letes’ rooms with air-conditioning.

The I n t e r n a t i o n a l O l y mp i c Committee vis­ited the city this month and ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion with progress so far, al­beit with the caveat that “thou­sands” of small de­tails had to be fi­nalised.

CHAL­LENGES

The other big is­sues concern Rio it­self. A planned clean-up of the bay where the sail­ing and open wa­ter swim­ming events will take place did not hap­pen. Although of­fi­cials say the race lanes will be pris­tine, the Olympics will not pro­duce the promised legacy of clear wa­ters. An out­break of the mosquito­borne Zika virus, which has been linked to birth de­fects in hun­dreds of chil­dren in north­ern Brazil, has caused wide­spread panic and prompted some fans and even some ath­letes to con­sider skip­ping the Games.

Ques­tions re­main about whether the new metro line lead­ing from the pop­u­lous South Side of Rio to the Olympic Park area will be ready in time. The line has yet to be com­pleted and will start op­er­a­tions with­out pro­longed tests, if any at all. Crime re­mains a ma­jor concern. Drug traf­fick­ers have again taken over slums that com­mu­nity po­lice had paci­fied ahead of the 2014 World Cup, and shoot­ings have be­come more com­mon, blog­ger Michaels said. In the first three months of this year, 432 peo­ple were mur­dered in the city, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment sta­tis­tics. The deaths of two peo­ple on a new seafront cy­cle lane that was touted as part of the Olympics legacy have shaken res­i­dents. The lane c ol l apsed when a strong wave swept up the sea wall on Thurs­day. Such sto­ries may be partly re­spon­si­ble for slow de­mand for t i c k e t s , wit h only 62 per­cent sold so f a r, ac c or d i ng to Phil Wilkin­son, spokesman for Rio 2016 or­gan­is­ing committee. Visa Inc said on Tues­day that it ex­pects 4-5lakh in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers to visit Rio for the games, less than the 5.9lakh tourists who at­tended the last sum­mer Olympics in Lon­don in 2012.

In true Brazil­ian style, though, of­fi­cials say they ex­pect the Games to turn out fine. “When the ath­letes ar­rive and sport be­gins, the coun­try will get be­hind it, and we will see an ex­citable and pas­sion­ate au­di­ence en­gage with the Games,” Wilkin­son said. “We are con­fi­dent that, 100 days out, we are in a good po­si­tion.”

The IOC vis­ited Rio this month and ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion with progress so far, al­beit with the caveat that “thou­sands” of small de­tails had to be fi­nalised

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