RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Rio Olympic Games organizers Tuesday countered criticism of slow preparations with an assurance they would deliver the 2016 event on time and on budget.
With the clock rapidly ticking before the first Olympics in South America, many facilities in Rio have yet to be completed because of construction delays and soaring costs.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice President John Coates on Tuesday voiced “critical concern” over preparations, echoing months of worries from the Olympic overseeing body.
But the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) insisted in a statement they would deliver their “historic mission” with IOC support, which an IOC statement said it would provide.
“We have a historic mission: to organize the first Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brazil and in South America. We are going to achieve this,” the LOC said.
“In 2016, Rio will host excellent Games that will be delivered absolutely within the agreed timelines and budgets,” the LOC said.
The comments from Rio came after Coates had said the preparations were “the worst I have experienced.”
The problems and delays had pushed the IOC earlier this month to compile a list of urgent recommendations, including the creation of three task forces.
But on Tuesday the Switzerland-based IOC issued a statement supporting the Rio team, saying “a number of recent developments show that things are moving in the right direction.”
“Working together with our partners in Rio, we have put in place a number of measures to support the Games,” said the statement from IOC Director of Communications Mark Adams.
Among the measures was the creation of a high level decision-making body that includes representatives from the IOC, Brazil’s government and all key Games partners.
“We continue to believe that Rio is capable of providing outstanding Games,” Adams concluded
The LOC insisted “work being undertaken in partnership with the three levels of government — federal, state and city — is delivering progress.”
However, worrying signs remain.
Work at the Olympic site in Rio’s Deodoro district was due to start last year but was now expected to start in September. And a recent strike by workers at the Barra de Tijuca district in western Rio, which will host a slew of events, also caused delays.
Beyond construction issues the city must also work on cleansing sewage-contaminated water in Guanabara Bay, which is slated to host sailing and windsurfing vents.
A further embarrassment for Rio has been the closure of the Engenhao stadium, built just seven years ago and set to host athletics but which has structural problems with its roof. There, also, repairs are running behind schedule.
Coates’ criticisms echo those leveled at Brazil by FIFA over the World Cup, due to start in June. Football’s governing body spent frustrating months urging the country to step up the pace of preparations.
With barely six weeks remaining before that event kicks off, work still has to be completed at four stadiums, and FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke admitted last week that the São Paulo venue staging the opening match on June 12 will only be ready “at the last minute.”
Nevertheless, city mayor Eduardo Paes said Tuesday Rio would meet its challenge for the Olympics.
“We must accept the criticism and work hard with great zeal and dedication to ensure everything is delivered correctly,” the G1 news portal quoted Paes as saying.
Earlier this month, Brazilian authorities said they will spend 24.1 billion reais ($10.8 billion) on infrastructure projects of long-term benefit to Rio, brought forward to coincide with the Games.
A total of 5.6 billion reais is being spent on Games-specific infrastructure while seven billion reais of private money will go on the tournament’s organization.
Rio won the right to stage the Games in 2009 but inflation and new projects have helped push up the cost almost a third above initial projections.
Overall total projected spending, infrastructure included, is currently calculated at 36.7 billion reais ($16.3 billion) though costs for a number of projects have yet to be calculated.