One of the candidates for the International Olympic Committee’s presidency warned organizers of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro that concerns remain about the city’s ability to complete construction projects in time.
Richard Carrion, a Puerto Rican banker who heads the IOC’s finance body, said although he was “pleasantly surprised” by progress made in Brazil, there are still worries over the building of transport infrastructure, accommodation and venues. Carrion was part of an inspection team that visited Rio last week, the second time the group went this year.
“This time I left a lot more positive than last time but there are less than three years to go,” Carrion said in an interview in Buenos Aires. “The clock is ticking.”
Since Rio beat cities including Chicago and Madrid to become the first South American host of the Olympics it’s struggled to keep up with the work required for the event’s August 2016 start. Confusion over the responsibility to be assumed by the federal, state and city governments has also affected the project, which will see more than $11 billion in public and private money used to transform Brazil’s former capital. Marcio Fortes, who headed the Olympic Public Authority, a body responsible for coordinating the efforts of the three levels of government, resigned Aug. 14.
“All levels of the government need to start working together to get it done,” said Carrion, who’ll find out at a Sept. 10 vote of IOC members whether he’ll replace the retiring Jacques Rogge as the organization’s leader. Carrion is in a six-way battle with figures including former Olympic pole vault champion Sergei Bubka and Thomas Bach of Germany.
Rogge yesterday cited construction work at Deodoro, one of four zones slated to host events during the 2016 games, as “just one example of many” where Rio is behind schedule.
“I’m not going to go into details but there are a lot of infrastructure projects where the construction should be speeded up a little bit,” he said at a news conference in Buenos Aires.
Another area where Rio may struggle is with financing the operations of the games, which are likely to cost about $3.5 billion. Organizers are working on a revised budget. They’ll face a challenge to meet their marketing budget, which according to Carrion is higher than the record $1.1 billion secured by 2012 games host London.
Rio 2016 surpassed the 1 billion real ($438 million) mark in 2011 with two sponsors: Bradesco and America Movil. Since then the country’s economy slowed. First-quarter growth slipped to 1.9 percent compared with 7.5 percent in 2010, when Bradesco signed on.
“The revenue targets are aggressive,” said Carrion. “They will have to make some kind of provision in the budget if they are not met.”
Rio’s Chief Operating Officer Leo Gruyner said last month that organizers are likely to need to tap an entire $700 million government-supplied contingency fund to make up for a shortfall in the budget.
The reliance on public funds comes amid greater scrutiny from the Brazilian public on how the money is being spent. In June people took to the streets in the country’s biggest demonstrations in more than two decades to target political corruption, the lack of spending on health and education and the amount of money going to sporting events. Brazil is also hosting next year’s soccer World Cup.
“Everybody is acutely sensitive to that point but the feeling was there is still a very strong desire for the Olympics to come to Rio,” said Carrion. “I think the sense is more that the public want more transparency and they want to see what’s being done, and feel the money is being well spent. Part of that is a communication problem. They just have to make it clear that this is going to be a positive.”