Olympics: IOC chief Bach downplays bid corruption fears, Rio Games ticket sales slow

(AFP) - International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach on Wednesday downplayed suspicions of bid corruption surrounding the Rio Games and Tokyo 2020, while organisers in Brazil revealed that fewer than half of all tickets had been sold.

French prosecutors investigating corruption allegations against the former head of world athletics Lamine Diack confirmed they had expanded their probe to examine the bidding for the Rio Olympics and the Tokyo Games in four years' time.

However, Bach stressed there was "no evidence so far" to substantiate claims of corruption and said the IOC was working proactively to combat the issue.

"We know that no government, no institution, no organisation is immune to these evils of corruption," Bach said following an IOC executive committee meeting in Lausanne.

"In this case, when the first rumours came up we addressed (World Anti-Doping Agency) Wada and the French authorities to provide us with the necessary information and so far we have no evidence.

"We are also very proactive in our fight against corruption. We are not waiting to get information, we are looking for this information actively."

Meanwhile, Rio Olympics organisers revealed that just 47 per cent of tickets have been sold so far, with just over five months to go before the opening ceremony on Aug 5.

However, the ticket sales amount to $194 million (S$270 million), almost three-quarters of the target set by the organising committee, in large part due to revenue generated from more expensive tickets.

"All the tickets for the opening ceremony and the premium events are technically sold out," said Mario Andrada, director of communications for the committee.

Committee chairman Carlos Nuzman, who presented a progress report to Bach as well as members of the IOC executive board, dismissed concerns about the Zika virus.

Brazil has already been hit by 1.5 million Zika cases since 2015, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) expects an "explosive" spread in the Americas, with three to four million cases this year.

Last month, organisers voiced concerns over the outbreak of the virus but remained confident the problem will have cleaned up in time for the Games, and Nuzman reiterated that Zika would not be a threat.

"The director of WHO (Margaret Chan) recognised there is no problem (with Zika), she was in Brazil with president Dilma (Rousseff) and she gave an interview saying all of these, for these reasons we are confident and I think the position of the IOC is the same," Nuzman told journalists.

The IOC also gave the green light for a team of up to 10 refugees to take part at the Rio Olympics.

So far, 43 high-performance athletes, who are also refugees, have been identified as possibly being eligible for the Games in Brazil.

Bach said the final number would depend on meeting qualifying criteria, adding that the team would compete under the flag of the IOC.

"We have all been touched by the magnitude of this refugee crisis. By welcoming this team, we want to send a message of hope to all the refugees in the world," he said.