By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the 2014 World Cup start date now a little over three weeks away and numerous stadiums still classified as works-in-progress, Rio de Janerio’s preparations for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games have also come under the international spotlight, leaving the city and various agencies responsible for the Games to deal with a new onslaught of heavy criticism.
Most recently the Associated Press reported Rio’s state environment secretary, Carlos Francisco Portinho stating in a May 7th letter to Brazil’s Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, that with the current available funds, the city would not meet its goals of trash and sewage removal from Guanabara Bay in time for the Olympic Games.
Guanbarra Bay is scheduled to host Olympic sailing events and while the city of Rio tested the waters and found them to be acceptable by Brazilian standards, both national and international sailors have voiced complaints about the quality of the bay’s waters. The International Olympic Committee however, states that it will not conduct additional tests.
Water pollution, including trash and raw sewage, is a serious and ongoing problem for the city. Officials had pledged during the city’s 2009 Olympic bid, to treat up to eighty percent of the raw sewage in the Bay’s water by the Games. Currently numbers show that only about forty percent of the waste has been treated.
This last blow comes soon on the heals of an April 31st report when IOC vice-president John Coates, an Australian involved in Olympic sport over forty years, warned progress was as bad as he had ever seen. An AOC (Australian Olympic Committee) statement paraphrased Coates describing the Rio preparations as “the worst I have experienced” and “worse than Athens”, going on to add the city faced “social issues that need to be addressed”.
“The IOC has formed a special taskforce to try and speed up the preparations but the situation is critical on the ground,” said Coates in a statement on the Australian Olympic Committee’s website. “The IOC has adopted a more ‘hands-on’ role. It is unprecedented for the IOC but there is no Plan B. We are going to Rio.”
Work to be done includes the construction of six venues and the renovation of an additional three venues, that will become the Deodoro Olympic Park. Located in the Northern section of Rio, construction at that Olympic site, the second largest cluster of Olympics venues in the city, had been slated to begin in 2013. After meeting with numerous delays, the construction is now scheduled to start during the second half of this year.
“The recent announcement of the budget for infrastructure and legacy projects, in addition to the launch of the tender process for the Deodoro Olympic Park venues, were crucial developments and unequivocal signs of progress,” the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee release stated.
“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 release continued, concluding; “In 2016, Rio will host excellent Games that will be delivered absolutely within the agreed timelines and budgets.”
Earlier in April, officials announced a 25 percent increase in the infrastructure budget for the Games. The budget now stands at R$24.1 billion and reportedly includes funds for urban development projects and funds for work on the Rio metro line, which has seen a number of setbacks.
“The bigger the legacy budget is, the more things will be carried out, and the better it is for the city,” Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said on April 17th, in defense of overspending for the games, he added; “We have a sports commitment for the games, but our focus will always be the legacy for the city.”