Brazil: On time and on budget: It is an unexpected message 16 months ahead of the Rio Olympics. This, after all, is Brazil, the nation which hosted the last World Cup, a competition that redefined terms like delay and overspend, a tournament pockmarked in its lead-up by civil unrest. But in Rio, with just under 500 days to go before the opening ceremony of the 31st Olympiad, there appear to be no stories to report about half-built stadiums or mass demonstrations, no sharks in the swimming pool or security firms in meltdown, none of the usual catalogue of pre-Olympic tales predicting imminent disaster.
Instead, in the sleek, busy new headquarters of the Olympic Organising Committee, sited just down the road from the downtown stadium that stages the annual carnival (and which will host the Olympic archery next summer), Leonardo Gryner, Rio’s equivalent of Lord Coe, exudes a sense of calm and efficiency.
“Everything will be ready at least eight months before the Games, in time to hand over to the various federations for test events,” says the deputy CEO of the organising committee. “That is very nice for us Brazilians. We feel very proud we have managed to deliver as planned.”
Inspection of the city’s Olympic sites suggests Gryner is not exaggerating. As far as the Games facilities themselves are concerned, building appears to be almost complete, with many new centres already functioning. The only significant construction issue surrounds a new subway system linking the city centre and the Olympic Park in Barra, which is not due to take its first passenger until next June.
“It is very tight, so we monitor that on a daily basis,” admits Gryner of the metro. “Everything is progressing as scheduled on that. We knew from the start that it will be very tight and require a high level of attention. We are confident, however, that it will be ready.”
Rio will be the first modern Olympiad in which all of the events (apart from the football competition which is spread throughout Brazil) will take place within the city limits. The sailing will be around the renovated port, the mountain biking in a city park, the rowing in the Ipanema lagoon. The advantage the organisers have is that much of the action will be in existing sporting infrastructure.
The opening and closing ceremonies, for instance, will take place in the Maracana, already upgraded for the World Cup. The athletics stadium was built for the Pan American Games in 2007. And in Rio, after all, there was not any need to search long and hard for a place to stage the beach volleyball.
“Seventy-five per cent of the square metres required for the Games were already there,” says Gryner. “We were building just 25 per cent of the square metres required. Venues for events such as shooting, equestrian, the arena for gymnastics were all built for the Pan American Games.”
Nevertheless, the strain on the public purse remains substantial. The overall budget is 37?billion Reals (pounds 7.6?billion), the majority of which has come from taxpayers’ pockets. As yet, however, there appears to be none of the widespread animosity towards such spending that characterised the lead-up to the World Cup.
“Last week there were some protests all over the country,” says Gryner of the more than one million people who took to the streets to march against the government of President Dilma Rousseff. “We were very curious to see if there would be banners saying ‘No Olympics’. There was nothing like that. People have a very good understanding of what we are trying to undertake. The last poll we conducted at the end of last year said 67 per cent of Brazilians are in favour of the Games.”
Gryner’s confidence will be put to the test today when the first tickets are available to the domestic market. Nevertheless the apparent pre-event enthusiasm is some contrast with the World Cup. Gryner, despite his diplomatic tone, is withering in his assessment of the way that competition was delivered.
“I think the great lesson for Brazil from the World Cup is the key role of planning,” he says. “The Olympics was very comprehensively planned from the beginning because it is required by the International Olympic Committee, with all the guarantees for everything you are offering. Brazil was given the World Cup without even knowing which cities would host matches. The cities were appointed two years after we were awarded it. The planning only started then. In our case when we were elected it was simply a matter of implementing the plan. Brazilians will have learnt looking to the two projects the best way to move is through a solid plan before you go ahead.”
This is the wider message Gryner hopes will be made apparent by the Rio Games: that Brazil is a place which, despite the recent evidence, can supply what it says it will supply.
“Also making sure that money is well spent,” he adds. “We are showing this won’t be a luxury Games. It will be fit, clean and fun. Clean meaning being ethical. Fit meaning that we are doing what is needed and nothing else. That will show that many cities can host the Olympics without overspending. And fun? Well this is Brazil.”
There are still serious issues to be addressed – traffic control, pollution, crime – but the fact is Rio 2016 is unlikely to provide the wealth of crisis stories that the football tournament did. Though Gryner is quick to point out there are some aspects of last summer’s event that the Games will be emulating.
“The experience that people had when they arrived here for the World Cup, despite the criticism, was they had a wonderful time. Because that’s our way. And they will again for the Olympics.”
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