Today: Last Update:

  • Op Ed -- Rio 2016 Defies the Naysayers


    Rio's Olympic Village (ATR)
    (ATR) Rio’s golden beaches were swarming with World Cup fans on my visit last weekend. In two years’ time, the Olympic circus rolls into town. Will South America's first Olympic host city be ready?

    Three months ago at SportAccord in Belek at a joint IOC/ASOIF meeting, 17 of the 28 sports federations on the Rio 2016 program sounded off about delays on the Olympic project, some calling for a Plan B for their venues. It was a wake-up call to Brazil and the levels of cooperation between Games organizers and federations has since markedly improved.

    But what is it like on the ground in Rio? With little more than two years to go, how are the venues and infrastructure taking shape?

    On a whistle-stop tour of several venues sites, I gained an insight into the status of preparations. Against the backdrop of chronic delays in building FIFA World Cup stadiums and infrastructure, Rio 2016 is facing schedule challenges.

    There’s no doubt venue timelines are extremely tight. Top IOC officials, including Rio troubleshooter Gilbert Felli, will be sweating about delivery dates for another 24 months. But Rio 2016 director of communications Mario Andrada brushes off concerns in a confident manner, pointing out how venues are rising from the ground. He’s quick to emphasize that 38 percent of competition venues are ready; 11 of the 29 permanent venues are operational and require no renovation.

    Andrada drives past the HSBC Arena, a legacy of the 2007 Pan Am Games which will host gymnastics at the Olympics, and Riocentro, the IBC for the World Cup which will be the venue for boxing.

    A stop at the Olympic Village site indicates that a fair number of the 31 buildings, each of 17 floors, are nearly built. The presence of cranes and scaffolding everywhere shows there’s still plenty of work to do on the privately-funded complex that will house athletes and officials. Completion is expected end of 2015 or early 2016.

    Andrada says the Olympic Stadium, glistening on the landscape of Rio, requires reinforcement of the roof structure that should be done by the end of 2014. All foundations of the velodrome are done and the aquatics and tennis facilities are “coming up from the ground."

    The rowing venue for Rio 2016 (ATR)
    The rowing venue is a stunning setting not far from Ipanema Beach. We also pass by the new-look Maracana, renovated for the World Cup, the existing archery venue, and site of the marathon finish.

    At this point of my trip, Rio 2016’s confidence in its progress is easy to understand.

    Then there’s the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, already working. The Transcarioca expressway, which connects Rio’s international airport with Barra with the main Games competition zone, opened for the World Cup. It’s expected to reduce previous journey times by around 60 percent with approximately 320,000 people set to travel along the 39-kilometer route each day.

    Worries about the golf course under construction in the Reserva Marapendi are misplaced, according to Rio 2016. The International Golf Federation held an inspection site visit two weeks ago. Andrada said they were “totally happy” with what they had seen. Seeding is taking place and some grass is already in place.

    The Biggest Challenges

    Four major projects, all under intense time pressure, appear to be preoccupying Rio 2016 and theIOC.

    The IBC’s metal structure is evidently up – but there’s nothing more to see. It’s the “first priority," Andrada says, because it must be finished by August 2015 so OBS can fit air-conditioning and cabling.

    Significant efforts are clearly needed to deliver it on time. The road widening scheme in front of the IBC has only recently begun.

    The sewage-filled Guanabara Bay is an issue that has brought concerns from the International Sailing Federation, especially with its Olympic test event taking place in the first week of August.

    The beginnings of Rio's International Broadcast Center (ATR)
    “We need to have the bay ready and make sure the event is well organized,” says Andrada, indicating that the task of cleaning the “field of play” alone is a big task before the July 28 deadline.

    Deodoro, the second Olympic Park that will host eight federations, is an ongoing headache for the IOC and the subject of many IFs’ concerns. Two tenders for development of the northern and southern sections of the park were only awarded this month. Andrada told me that trucks will begin earth moving on site next week after the city’s mayor requested the contractors start work before the end of the World Cup. Eduardo Paes wants to show the world that Brazil’s spotlight on the FIFA showpiece is not disrupting the Rio 2016 project.

    Another worry for the IOC is the construction of the Subway Line 4 tunnel, which will connect Barra da Tijuca to Ipanema in just 15 minutes. Rail tracks are now being laid. But completion is slated for May 2016.

    “We are on track,” Andrada says. “We are ready for the spotlight after the World Cup. We will deliver to expectations.”

    Andrada says Rio Olympic observers “will doubt us until the Opening Ceremony." But he says Rio 2016 is just getting on with the job.

    “We are working with the IOC and the government. We don’t have time to think about people who doubt us. We have an Olympic Games to deliver,” he says.

    Such a determined attitude will be music to the ears of the IOC and 28 sports federations.

    After observing Games preparations first-hand, I came away from Rio with a more optimistic view of the Olympic project. Yes, there’s a heap of work to do and no time to waste. Rio 2016 must be prepared for more flak as the dust settles on the month-long World Cup party. But Brazil has confounded expectations in its largely glitch-free staging of the World Cup and there’s every reason to believe Rio is gearing up nicely to host a spectacular Olympics in August 2016.

    Written by Mark Bisson

    For general comments or questions, click here.

    20 Years at #1: Your best source of news about the Olympics is, for subscribers only.