The head of the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday played down problems with unfinished accommodation in Rio de Janeiro that have prompted some teams to abandon the Olympic village, saying he expected Brazil to host a “fantastic” games.
Arriving in the coastal city ahead of the Aug. 5 start of the first Olympics to be held in South America, Thomas Bach said every host city
experienced last-minute difficulties.
Concern over Rio’s readiness erupted on Sunday when the Australian delegation said it would not stay in the Olympic Village as the housing was “not safe or ready” due to leaky plumbing, blocked toilets and exposed wires.
Argentina also abandoned the village while Italy and New Zealand said they had been forced to call in workers to fix problems after organizers admitted the blocks had been handed over without proper testing of water and power systems.
“The last couple of days before the Olympics Games there is always one issue or other to be solved. The Brazilians will solve it,” Bach told reporters.
“You can already feel the Olympic energy here … We always had confidence in Brazil, in the Brazilians, that it will be a fantastic Olympic Games.”
Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor Eduardo Paes deployed hundreds of workmen to the Olympic village and expects to have all 31 blocks ready for use by the end of the week. So far only a fraction of the athletes have turned up, organisers say.
Australia’s delegation, praising Rio’s swift response, was due to complete its move back into the village on Wednesday.
In a gesture of goodwill, Paes presented the head of the Australian delegation, Kitty Chiller, with the keys to the city of Rio on Wednesday and thanked her for her understanding.
Paes, who had downplayed the complaints by saying he might give the Australians a kangaroo to make them feel at home, apologized and said he would support Australia as his second team.
The build-up to the Games was marked by concerns over a budget crisis in Rio de Janeiro, sparked by Brazil’s worst recession since the 1930s, as well as an outbreak of the Zika virus, and a political crisis that has seen suspended President Dilma Rousseff placed on trial in the Senate.
Aside from fears over pollution in Guanabara bay where sailing and long-distance swimming events will be held, some infrastructure for the Games is being completed at the last minute.
The metro line to carry visitors from the centre of Rio to the distant western neighbourhood of Barra da Tijuca where the Games will be held will only be inaugurated on Saturday by interim President Michel Temer.
Paes told a news conference the city would benefit from the legacy of the Games, which had allowed the completion of long-delayed projects.
Visitors, he said, “will not find a perfect city but a much better one than we had in 2009.”
A poll published on Wednesday in the Estado de S.Paulo newspaper said a majority of Brazilians are pessimistic about the impact of the Olympics.
The survey by polling group Ibope showed 60 percent of Brazilians believe the games, expected to cost around 40 billion reais (about $12 billion) will bring more harm than good to Brazil.