By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Wednesday, July 27th, an apologetic Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, welcomed the Australian Olympic delegation to the Olympic Village with keys to the city. The ceremony took place three days after the delegation announced that no Australian athletes would move into the Village due to the existence of serious health and safety concerns that “endangered” the athletes.
The Rio 2016 Olympic Village, the largest athletes residence in Olympic history, is comprised of a seven-condominium complex of 31 buildings up to seventeen stories tall with a total of 3,604 apartments. Strategically located in Barra da Tijuca, the site was considered ideal for the athletes’ village, being accessible to most of the major competition hubs, including the biggest Olympic site, Olympic Park.
Problems at the Olympic Village began to emerge over the weekend. Following its official opening on Sunday, July 24th, Kitty Chiller, head of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) delegation, refused to allow Australian athletes to move into the Village for what she deemed poor conditions that “endangered” the athletes.
“Problems include blocked toilets, leaking pipes, exposed wiring, darkened stairwells where no lighting has been installed and dirty floors in need of a massive clean,” Chiller said in a released statement. “We are not alone,” she added, “our friends from Team GB, New Zealand and others are experiencing the same problems in their accommodation.”
Australian athletes, who began arriving on Monday, July 25th, were relocated to nearby hotels until officials fixed the problems. In response to the situation, Rio Mayor Paes made headlines, of the negative kind, cavalierly telling the press, “I almost feel like putting a kangaroo in front of their building to make them feel at home.”
Despite the Mayor’s seemingly dismissive attitude, the complaints led to one thousand cleaners, plumbers, safety inspectors and electricians to the site working around the clock to make repairs and resolve the embarrassing incident.
All seemed well by Wednesday morning as the Australian delegation announced that, after reassessing the rooms, it was happy with their condition and would be moving in its 700-member strong team.
At the official welcome ceremony at the Village, Mayor Paes apologized for what he termed was “almost a diplomatic thing,” acknowledging that Australia’s residence was in bad shape. “It was the worst building,” the mayor said. “The building was not ready, the complaints of the Australian delegation were right.” Paes added, “I’m happy that we’re getting things right.”
As a sign of truce, Paes presented delegation head Chiller the keys to the city and a doll of the Rio Games’ official mascot, Vinicius. In return, and as a nod to Paes’ kangaroo comment, Chiller gave the Mayor a boxing kangaroo doll and a Team Australia shirt.
“I have come here to make a formal apology. I did not make fun of the kangaroo. I understand it is a symbol, and I have my kangaroo here now,” Mayor Paes said jokingly.
“For both of us,” AOC head Chiller added, “we just want to deliver the best games and the best village for our fantastic athletes. Now we can just move on and get on with the sports.”
By Thursday, July 28th, an estimated 3,578 people had moved into the Olympic Village, with 1,129 of them being athletes.
At its peak, the Olympic Village will accommodate 18,000 athletes and staff, with the move-in crunch coming next week in the final run-up to the opening ceremony at Maracanã Stadium on August 5th.
Correction: This article has been corrected since it was originally published on July 28th to begin “On Wednesday, July 27th,” not “On Wednesday, June 27th.”