Rio’s mayor and Australia buried the hatchet in a row over shambolic conditions at the Olympic Village but controversy lingered, as a new poll showed Brazilians are deeply gloomy about the Games.
Mayor Eduardo Paes kissed Australia delegation chief Kitty Chiller on the cheek, handed her a symbolic key to the city and apologized for the construction hiccups at the Village, which included blocked toilets, dangerous wiring and leaks.
“I saw the things. This was the worst building. I recognize the problems you faced,” a repentant Paes said.
Paes’ speech was a far cry from his apparently combative reaction Sunday after Chiller lambasted the accommodations as the worst she’d seen in five Olympics.
The mayor’s quip that a kangaroo should be sent to make the Australians feel better fell flat, being widely interpreted as a jibe and quickly surfacing on Twitter as #kangaroogate.
Paes explained Wednesday he’d not meant any harm and offered “a formal apology, almost a diplomatic thing.”
Flanked by Australian athletes, Chiller praised Brazil for the “passion and the commitment” in carrying out emergency repairs — and gave Paes a stuffed kangaroo.
However, new concerns emerged over the race to finish the Village with just nine days to go before the August 5 opening ceremony.
Labor inspectors accused the Olympic organizing committee of using some 630 workers without contracts and in exhausting shifts.
“If a worker suffers any sort of accident or is killed, then the family will not have this (contract) guarantee,” inspector Hercules Terra told G1, saying organizers would be fined.
Asked how much the rush job was costing, Paes responded: “I don’t know.”
Public apathy and gloom
The Olympic Village’s teething problems are another embarrassment for Brazil, which is struggling to show it can cope with the pressure during a severe recession and political crisis.
Organizers are already facing questions over low ticket sales, public apathy, fears over the Zika virus, and a spike in street crime as police complain of lack of resources.
A poll published in Sao Paulo’s Estadao newspaper found that 60 percent of Brazilians believe the Olympics will bring more bad than good to the country.
The Ibope poll, published in Sao Paulo daily Estadao, found only 32 percent of Brazilians expect the first Games ever held in South America to be more positive than negative.
This split showed a darker mood than on the eve of the last major sporting event hosted by Brazil, the 2014 football World Cup. Then, 40 percent expected more negative outcomes compared to 43 percent who were optimistic.
Paes brushed off the poll, telling Estadao that “the city of Rio is already benefiting from the legacy, the population is already benefiting.”
When Brazil won the Rio hosting rights back in 2009, the economy was booming and then president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was immensely popular.
Today Brazil is in economic retreat, while Lula faces serious corruption allegations and his handpicked successor Dilma Rousseff faces being removed from office in an impeachment vote shortly after the Games end.
Amnesty International on Wednesday highlighted bloody police violence in Rio by laying 40 body bags in front of the Olympic organizing committee headquarters — each representing people killed by city officers in May alone.
“Our main worry is that there is an escalation of police violence as we get closer to the Games,” said Amnesty expert Renata Neder.