'Nothing behind schedule' in Rio

Assurance comes from officials even as Brazil faces other problems in run-up to Olympics

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach (top) takes part in an event at Barra da Tijuca Beach in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, one year before the start of the 2016 Olympic Games.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach (top) takes part in an event at Barra da Tijuca Beach in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, one year before the start of the 2016 Olympic Games.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RIO DE JANEIRO • Brazil's economy is heading for a recession, the president is threatened with impeachment and a huge corruption scandal has engulfed the nation.

But Rio de Janeiro is riding a wave of confidence in its preparations to host the Olympics next year.

The Games start on Aug 5 and most of the work will be completed on time, Pedro Paulo, the man coordinating the city's Olympic projects, said.

"Nothing is behind schedule," he added. "City hall has prepared to host the Games from an economic and fiscal point of view."

That claim, while impossible to verify, is welcome because of the contrast with the football World Cup, held last year in Rio and 11 other Brazilian cities.

Work on most of the stadiums was behind schedule and some of the promised infrastructure and transportation projects were never completed at all.

The debacle cast doubts on Brazilian organisation but, rather than suffer, Rio appears to have learnt valuable lessons.

The Olympic village is 84 per cent complete. The swimming pool, media centre and three arenas that will host six indoor events are all more than two-thirds ready, according to numbers from the foreign ministry.

Among the venues where most work is needed are the velodrome and hockey pitches, which are only half completed.

Work on temporary venues for rugby and beach volleyball is still to begin. Ditto final alterations to the track and field stadium and the Maracana, where the opening and closing ceremonies and the football final will take place.

A new metro line out to Barra da Tijuca, where many of the events will be held, is on schedule as are new bus lanes, officials said.

"Brazil isn't all about lack of planning, overpricing and with no commitment to dates and times," noted mayor Eduardo Paes.

The biggest issues now surround water and possibly money.

The waters off the Atlantic coast have been filthy for decades.

Rio promised to reduce pollution by 80 per cent in the bay where sailing, triathlon and open-water swimming will take place.

But independent studies released last week showed high levels of viruses and bacteria. Officials admit they will not meet that target.

Money, meanwhile, is not yet an issue but could be as Brazil's economy stalls.

Accentuating matters is a huge corruption scandal- known by the code name "Car Wash" - that has put some of the country's biggest construction bosses in jail.

At least five of the companies are working on Olympic projects and credit lines have dried up as uncertainty swirls around their future.

City officials said they had advanced cash to affected companies to prevent a slowdown. "There is no 'Car Wash' here," said Paulo. "Our projects are on time, the price is set, there are no projects that cost twice what they were at the start."

The Olympic Public Authority in charge of coordinating spending on the Games refused to reveal how much of the total work had been finished. But it is almost certainly less than for the London Olympics four years ago.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2015, with the headline ''NOTHING BEHIND SCHEDULE' IN RIO'. Print Edition | Subscribe