Olympics: Rio 2016 cutbacks give cause for concern

Olympic mascots are seen at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro on Feb 7, 2016.
Olympic mascots are seen at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro on Feb 7, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

LAUSANNE (AFP) - Rowing and other sports expressed concern on Monday (Feb 8) at the consequences of budget cuts at the Rio Olympics.

An economic downturn in Brazil has forced 2016 Games organisers to ditch plans for a 4,000 capacity floating stand at the Olympic rowing site on the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon.

As a result there will only be space for 6,000 spectators as opposed to the 14,000 originally planned at the site in the heart of the city with a spectacular backdrop of mountains and Rio's commanding Christ the Redeemer statue.

That's a far cry from the 25,000 rowing afficionados who filled Eton Dorney at the London 2012 Games.

"We perfectly understand the complicated situation in Brazil and the economic difficulties that the country is experiencing," Christophe Rolland, president of the International Rowing Federation, told AFP.

"But we regret that the decision to cancel the floating stand was taken without consultation."

"We have a knowhow and a competence which could have found a solution," added France's rowing champion at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Rolland joined the heads of the 28 international federations at talks with the International Olympic Committee last week to assess the state of play half a year out from the Games.

Carlos Nuzman, president of the Rio Olympic Organising Committee, was also in attendance.

"Each federation laid out its problems and its areas of concern," said Cornel Marculescu, head of the International Swimming Federation.

Like rowing, swimming, one of the Olympic's flagship sports, has suffered the repercussions of Brazil's belt tightening.

"We too have been hit from the start by the consequences of these budget reductions.

"Instead of having three pools like we had in London, we've only got two.

"That means that in the same pool we'll have diving, synchronised swimming and water-polo.

"It's a problem not for the staging of the events themselves but for training which risks becoming complicated." But in line with the sporting federation's general attitude he insisted that they would just have to put up and make do.

"It's not the time to complain but to get ourselves organised and we're not worried," added the Romanian former water-polo player who competed at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

Marculescu expressed confidence about conditions at Copacabana beach, the iconic stage for long distance swimming and triathlon, where the water he said "is tested each month and conforms to the standards".

Aside from rowing and swimming, equestrian's governing body (FEI) voiced disquiet at last week's summit meeting in Lausanne over problems at their Deodoro venue.

"We did not hide our unease when construction work was halted and we raised this question during the IOC meeting," FEI president Ingmar de Vos said.

"But we have just received confirmation from the Rio mayor that a contract has been signed with a new constructor.

"Therefore we are optimistic but we are following the case day by day," added the Belgian.

Rio last week rescinded contracts for construction of the equestrian and tennis facilities, saying the work under way was slow and incomplete.

The mayor's office said it was imposing a 10.16 million real ($2.4 million, 2.15 million euros) fine on the constructor Ibeg.

Rio's urbanisation authority has insisted that both sites will be ready for the Games and "are in an advanced stage of completion", with no extra costs expected due to the change in contracts.

The equestrian federation is working under a tight schedule, with the first horses due to arrive in Rio on July 29, and the competition starting on August 7.

The IOC meanwhile described the meeting with the federations as "positive".

"The International Federations particularly appreciated the update from the Rio organisers on Games preparations and the openness with regard to individual situations," an IOC statement declared.

It added: "This forum comes out of the Olympic Agenda 2020 recommendation, which aims to involve the federations in all stages of Games preparations and it built on the ongoing discussions between Rio 2016, the IOC and the IFs." De Vos is confident that despite Brazil's political and economic crisis, the Zika virus and the delays, everything should be in place for the August 5 opening ceremony.

"The Olympic Games are such an exceptional event that everything always finishes up by getting sorted out."