In April, International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates called Brazil’s preparations for the 2016 Olympics “the worst I have experienced.” But now, with a mostly successful World Cup set to end Sunday, the IOC appears to have changed its tune.
In an interview with the Associated Press, IOC Executive Director Gilbert Felli — who was sent to Rio to troubleshoot the country’s Olympic planning two months ago — said Brazil’s World Cup experience has given him optimism that the country can pull off a successful Games.
Speaking in his office at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Felli said there are no plans to move any venues as some sports federations had feared, and he predicted that most construction projects will be back on schedule by the end of September.
“Of course it remains tense, very tense, but we should look with more optimism,” Felli said in his first extensive interview since being handed the Rio assignment in April. “Until the games are delivered I’m always concerned. But it’s not the case to say we’re not going to make it. … My view is we will make it and the Brazilians will deliver excellent games. But we have to work every day for it. Nothing is a done deal.”
While serious concerns remain over tight deadlines, the shortage of hotel rooms and severe water pollution at the sailing venue, Felli said the World Cup has instilled a new sense of optimism in Brazil about organizing the first Olympics in South America.
“The perception of the World Cup is that it’s positive,” he said. “We can see the reverse of the mood of the Brazilians about the World Cup. … The perception of the Brazilians is much more positive. It’s good for the games. They have better trust in themselves to deliver the games.”
Felli said one of his main jobs was to convince Brazilian officials that their penchant for doing things at the last minute would not fly any longer.
“They like adrenaline, to be pushed in the last minute on some issues,” Felli said. “So then we try to explain the games cannot be like this. We’ve been able to explain that.”
At a meeting in April, the IOC formed a special task force to deal with the 2016 Games after “nearly 20 summer sports federations publicly voiced serious concerns over the delays” in Brazil, the AP reported. Felli was tabbed to head up the effort and has been to Rio twice since then, staying for two weeks at a time.
Despite the IOC’s new-found optimism, problems remain. Before the World Cup started last month, Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes admitted the country has no chance of cleaning up heavily polluted Guanabara Bay, the proposed site of the sailing events, before the Games begin in 2016. At best, the government has admitted that pollution would be cut by over 50 percent, as opposed to the 80 percent that Olympic organizers promised the IOC.
Last week, Brazil finally began construction on Deodoro Olympic Park, the second-largest site planned for the 2016 games. Construction was supposed to begin two years ago on the site, which will feature nine venues. Three already exist, while the other six have yet to be built.