Brazil just hosted the biggest sporting event in its history, a largely successful World Cup following a lead-up of fears over protests, delayed construction and transportation madness.
The first Olympics in South America, which will open in Rio de Janeiro two years from today, pose an even greater challenge.
Nearly 11,000 athletes (14 times as many as the World Cup) from more than 200 countries compete in 28 sports crammed into 16 days of medal competition (half the length of the World Cup). That scale and complexity also carries an estimated $20 billion price tag, several billion more than spent on the World Cup.
The weight falls on not the entire country, but mostly on a city nicknamed Cidade Maravilhosa.
Will the Marvelous City be ready?
International Olympic Committee officials gained reassurance from the World Cup.
“We are very happy that many of the concerns which were mentioned before this World Cup did not turn into reality,” IOC president Thomas Bach said before his nation, Germany, won the World Cup final at Rio’s Maracanã Stadium, which will hold the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and soccer finals in 2016. “We can really see that there is a great dynamism in their preparations.”
Bach also stressed that organizers must stay vigilant and dedicated.
That encouraging/mindful dichotomy runs through officials’ comments since the spring, when the IOC organized a special task force following problems such as construction delays, a workers’ strike and communication issues between Brazilian government and organizers.
Gilbert Felli, the IOC executive director for the Olympic Games, flew to Rio several months earlier than expected to oversee the acceleration of preparations.
In July, three months after being dispatched, Felli said he expected most projects back on schedule by September. He also described some deadlines as “very tense” in an Associated Press interview.
Specific tasks include the construction of the Deodoro Complex, one of four clusters of venues and that Felli said was two years behind schedule in May.
Rio mayor Eduardo Paes said Monday that 55 percent of the Olympic facilities are ready or need adjustments, according to the city’s prominent newspaper, O Globo. For comparison, Paes showed media a picture of what London’s Olympic Stadium looked like two years before the 2012 Games. It was a construction site.
Guanabara Bay, the sailing venue, is polluted, though the worst of the reported water conditions are not in competition areas, according to US Sailing. Authorities have acknowledged they won’t be able to meet a vow of cutting the pollution by 80 percent (50 percent is the new goal).
The course construction for the first Olympic golf tournaments since 1904 was also delayed, but work sped up in recent months. All of the grass is expected to be planted by the end of 2014. A test event is scheduled for August 2015.
There has also been concern over the completion of transportation between clusters and a shortage of hotel rooms.
The IOC will receive another official progress report in September.
Paes said Monday that Rio’s concerns actually helped the city win the IOC vote over Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo back in 2009.
The next two years, and the last five years, are not a burden but an opportunity for the city to prove its mettle as a bellwether for expanding the Olympics to new areas.
“The time has come for the Brazilian people to deliver something on time, on budget, with full transparency,” said Sidney Levy, Rio 2016 CEO, according to Bloomberg.