Rio prepares to 'make history'

Above: British fashion designer Stella McCartney (centre) is flanked by (from left) rugby captain Tom Mitchell, heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, diver Tom Daley and Paralympian Olivia Breen at the London launch of Team Great Britain's official kit for
Greek priestesses surround a miniature cauldron in Athens on Wednesday, during the handover ceremony of the Olympic flame to Brazilian officials.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Above: British fashion designer Stella McCartney (centre) is flanked by (from left) rugby captain Tom Mitchell, heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, diver Tom Daley and Paralympian Olivia Breen at the London launch of Team Great Britain's official kit for
Above: British fashion designer Stella McCartney (centre) is flanked by (from left) rugby captain Tom Mitchell, heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, diver Tom Daley and Paralympian Olivia Breen at the London launch of Team Great Britain's official kit for the Rio Olympics.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Political tremors mar countdown to South America's first Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO • Brazil's most happening city, Rio de Janeiro, on Wednesday launched the 100-day countdown to hosting South America's first Olympic Games with government and global sports leaders insisting they can overcome the country's political meltdown and troubled preparations.

At a ceremony in Athens featuring "ancient Greek goddesses", Brazilian organisers accepted the Olympic flame for the start of a journey that will see it carried by 12,000 people around Latin America's biggest country.

"Rio is ready to make history," Carlos Nuzman, president of the Rio 2016 Organising Committee, said at the torch handover.

New Zealand athletes marked the 100-day countdown with a traditional haka on an Auckland beach at sunrise.

Buildings around the world lit up in special colours - Brazilian yellow and green at Tokyo's municipal government headquarters and American red, white and blue for the Empire State Building in New York.

Several countries also unveiled their Olympic uniforms, including Britain, with a set designed by Stella McCartney and the US team turning to Ralph Lauren.

With Rio's hills, beaches and the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer providing a telegenic backdrop, the Games are expected to be spectacular.


Above: The statue of Christ the Redeemer is illuminated in Brazilian colours to celebrate the 100-day countdown to the start of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Greek priestesses surround a miniature cauldron in Athens on Wednesday, during the handover ceremony of the Olympic flame to Brazilian officials. PHOTO: REUTERS

But, despite the insistence of the Brazilian government and International Olympic Committee that everything will be ready, storm clouds are gathering.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff appears likely to be suspended from office through impeachment in the next few weeks and, with the economy in steep decline for the second straight year, the Olympic organisers will have to slash budgets further, fuelling fears of embarrassing delays.

  • 12,000

  • Number of torch-bearers who will carry the Olympic flame around 300 Brazilian cities.

Officials say that Olympic sites are 98 per cent complete.

However, there are serious delays to the velodrome, while a crucial extension of Rio's currently limited metro system is only due to open at the start of July, leaving dangerously little leeway.

Promises to clean up the horrific sewage and garbage pollution in the bay, where sailing and windsurfing events will take place, have been largely abandoned.

IOC president Thomas Bach has predicted Rio will lay on an "excellent" Games and Brazil's Sports Minister Ricardo Leyser insisted that the political crisis will have "no effect at all".

But setting up the world's biggest sporting event in a city battered by decades of under-investment in infrastructure and in a country riven by a giant corruption scandal has been full of difficulties.

Rio authorities admitted this week that 11 people had died over the past three years on Olympics-related construction projects. "It's a frightening number," said Robson Leite, inspector for the labour office in Rio de Janeiro state, who said only eight workers were killed during construction of sites for the whole 2014 World Cup.

Still, authorities hope that the Olympic flame relay will spark the so-far lacklustre domestic interest in the Games. The flame arrives on May 3 in the capital Brasilia after a short stopover in Switzerland and then is to be carried through towns and cities until the opening ceremony at the Maracana football stadium.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'RIO PREPARES TO 'MAKE HISTORY''. Print Edition | Subscribe