Olympics: Brazil on schedule to deliver a 'safe' Rio Games, says new sports minister

People cheering during the Ibero American Athletics Championships. The event served as a test event for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
People cheering during the Ibero American Athletics Championships. The event served as a test event for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. PHOTO: AFP

BRASILIA (REUTERS) - All infrastructure for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will be ready before the Games begin in August, including a much-delayed metro line, Brazil's newly appointed Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani said in an interview on Wednesday.

Picciani was appointed by interim President Michel Temer, who took over last week from President Dilma Rousseff after she was suspended to face trial for allegedly breaking budget rules.

"All the obligatory infrastructure will be finished in time," Picciani said. Even facilities that are behind schedule will be ready, he added, such as the velodrome that is 86 per cent finished and training facilities that are in the final phases of construction.

A main concern for organisers has been completion of Line 4 of the Rio metro system to transport visitors to the southern end of the city next to the Olympic Village. The Rio state government is responsible for the work and has guaranteed that the line would be operating on time, the minister said.

Buffeted by political crisis and a severe economic recession, Brazil is scrambling to prepare for the Games that start on Aug 5. Adding to the government's concerns, an outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus threatens to keep visitors and even some athletes from attending Rio2016.

Picciani said Temer has made hosting a successful Olympics a top priority of his incoming government as he endeavours to restore confidence in Brazil's once-booming economy. "The president's keyword is 'confidence' and that will be demonstrated to the world by having the Games succeed," he said.

Picciani dismissed concerns expressed on Monday by Defence Minister Raul Jungmann that the Rousseff government had overlooked security issues to the point that some key foreign intelligence agencies had stopped cooperating with Brazil.

"I am very sure that Brazil has taken all the measures needed to effectively guarantee that the Games will be safe," he said.

Impeachment proceedings against Rousseff paralyzed her cash-strapped government and it never got around to launching an international campaign to publicise Brazil's tourist attractions to draw more visitors. Picciani said the campaign will now start within days.

Turmoil and economic slump have dampened enthusiasm among Brazilians for a global sports event that was meant to showcase the emergence of their nation as a major world player. The lack of Olympic buzz is evident in tickets sales that are below plan.

Picciani said Brazilians are known for leaving everything to the last minute and excitement will pick up as the Games draw closer. "I'm sure they will be a success at the box office too," he said.

Picciani said all Olympic building contracts will be examined for signs of corruption in the wake of the massive graft and kickback scandal that has hit state-run oil company Petrobras. Nothing has been found yet, he said, although public works such World Cupfootball stadiums have also been tarred by scandal.

Just four days on the job, Picciani said he plans to speak to Rio authorities in the next few days about the water quality in Guanabara Bay where competitions such as sailing, canoeing and open water swimming will be held.

When Rio bid to host the Olympics, the city said it would cut the amount of raw sewage flowing into the bay by 80 per cent but has since confirmed it will not meet that target. An independent report last year found there were dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria in the water.