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  • Op Ed: Rio Not Quite Ready for Olympics Bid


    With the final days of the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro here, organizers seem to have passed a crucial test in a longer march towards the 2016 Olympics. Never before in the annals of the Pan Am Games have a city's Olympic hopes been so closely tied together.

    But while the 2007 Pan Ams will go down as one of the best, Rio de Janeiro and Brazil need to look hard at what's needed to produce a winning Olympic bid. The Pan Ams come close to the Olympics in terms of organizational complexity.

    But even at half the size of the Games, the scale of the Pan Ams will be a daunting challenge -- and Rio de Janeiro will have to up its game to win the ultimate prize.

    The lagoon that formed the paradise-like setting for the rowing and canoe events in central Rio worked fine for the Pan Ams, but what happens when the numbers of athletes and officials surge from 300 to near 1,000 -- and spectator capacity five times that number is needed?

    Other outdoor venues used in Rio for the Pan Ams are subject to the same pressures including equestrian, tennis, field hockey, and surprisingly, football. On the other hand, some of the new premier arenas built for the Pan Ams, such as the aquatics center and athletics stadium, are designed to grow should the Olympics come to town.

    There would be ten times the number of media covering the Olympics. That would make the 100,000 - square meter Rio Centro Convention inadequate. With upwards of 150,000 square meters needed to house the press and broadcast media, a Rio bid will need to produce an expansion plan or a propose a new venue. The pavilions at Rio Centro well-served the martial arts, badminton and handball, so the question of whether to keep them at the venue or find new arenas will have to be addressed.

    Another critical new venue needed for an Olympic bid will be an Olympic Village. With the 1400 units of the Pan American Village soon to become private housing, Rio 2016 will have to present a plan for accommodations to serve more than double the current 7,500 athletes and officials.

    Outside the Olympic Village, Rio will have to launch a relentless campaign to raise the hotel infrastructure for the city. Surprisingly for such a fabled tourist destination, Rio de Janeiro has an inventory of only about 21,000 rooms spread out across the sprawling metropolis. About 4,700 rooms are five star. By comparison, Chicago -- the U.S. bid for 2016 -- has more than 30,000 rooms within a five mile radius of its proposed venue center.

    Brazil's shaky aviation infrastructure also will have to face the glare of an Olympic bid. The crash in Sao Paulo in the first week of the Pan Ams highlighted the safety problems in the skies over Brazil. For passengers traveling to or from Brazil, the problematic state of the aviation sector has often meant delays or cancellations of flights.

    The final word is about Brazilian fans, who seem keen to cheer their side and jeer the opposition. Sportsmanship is a key to the Olympic spirit; the crowds in Rio apparently need more training before they are ready to welcome the world.

    High marks for the Pan Am experience, yes. But is Rio de Janeiro ready for the Olympics? Not just yet.

    Op Ed is a weekly column of opinion and ideas from Around the Rings founder and editor-in-chief Ed Hula. Comments, as well as guest columns are welcomed: