Rio 2016 Head Says Olympics Won’t Repeat World Cup Pains

After delays and cost overruns marred the buildup to the soccer World Cup in Brazil, the head of the country’s effort to host the 2016 Summer Olympics says the goal is to show a different image to the world.

Brazil hosted the month-long World Cup without any major hitches, with spectators packing stadiums to watch a tournament that featured high-scoring games and drama all the way to Germany’s 1-0 win against Argentina in the championship match at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium on July 13. What preceded the event was far less smooth, however.

Almost every one of the 12 stadiums being used for the $11 billion tournament ended up being over budget and missed deadlines for completion, including the Sao Paulo Arena that was still being painted on the day it hosted the tournament opener on June 12. That embarrassed Brazil and raised fears about what kind of event athletes and visitors will witness when Rio hosts the Olympics in exactly two years.

“The time has come for the Brazilian people to deliver something on time, on budget, with full transparency,” Sidney Levy, chief executive officer of Rio 2016, said in an interview yesterday at the organizing committee’s headquarters. “We can always fail, but that’s what we are willing to do.”

The Olympics take over from the World Cup as the country’s highest-profile project with a series of ongoing works, including a subway extension and renovation of the city’s port area that cost about 8 billion reais ($3.5 billion) apiece. Organizers said work to ready the city is back on track after criticism from senior members of the International Olympic Committee and sports federations about the lack of progress at some venues.

Test Events

A series of test events ahead of the games was announced yesterday, a day after a sailing event started in the Guanabara Bay. Sailors praised the location, though several complained about the water quality in a bay where untreated sewage flows daily. Some teams spotted a dead dog in the water during a training session last week.

“When you test, you make mistakes,” Gilbert Felli, the IOC’s executive director for the Olympic Games, told reporters. “You have to be careful you do not smash people for the mistakes they make in a test.”

Levy said much of the criticism given to World Cup organizers before the event was fair. The Olympics are unlikely to face similar delays because the venues that remain construction sites are much smaller than large soccer arenas.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said last month he intends to use the success of the World Cup as a shield against any skepticism about the Olympics, which will cost more than $15 billion in public and private spending.

Morale Boost

“It’s always going to be a good asset after everything said about Brazil’s World Cup,” Paes told an invited group of foreign reporters. “It’s always going to be a good excuse for us.”

Felli, dispatched to Rio by IOC President Thomas Bach to help organizers, said the World Cup helped boost morale among those working on the event -- though he warned against complacency.

“It’s good to have the success of the FIFA World Cup, but we should not sleep because the games are different,” he said. “For me, it’s important because it demonstrates that the Brazilian can achieve something.”

Rio’s relationship with the IOC and sporting bodies has improved since IOC Vice President John Coates in April described the city’s level of preparedness as the worst he’d seen during 40 years of work in the Olympic movement. “They are not ready in many, many ways,” Coates said.

Felli said much of the worry stemmed from confusion created by the lack of consistency in the information sent out to the various stakeholders involved in the world’s biggest multi-sports event.

“So when you go to a place and someone give you three different answers, you start to think which one is the good one,” he said. “That means maybe you received three answers and lost your confidence.”

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