RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The Rio de Janeiro 2016 summer Olympics move firmly into the spotlight this week with the International Olympic Committee in town to monitor progress and the soccer World Cup wrapping up.
The Olympics are the country’s second global sports event it has committed itself to staging and following the end of the world’s biggest single sports event on Sunday, Rio enters the final stretch of delivering a troubled project.
Called the “worst ever” preparations by IOC Vice President John Coates as recently as April, Rio organizers have been with their backs to the wall from the start, trying to play catchup with a schedule they had fallen behind.
IOC President Thomas Bach met Brazil President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia on Friday before returning to Rio to attend the World Cup final.
“We are seeing great progress and appreciate the commitment of the president and the government of Brazil for the Games,” Bach told reporters. “We believe they will be very successful.”
The German lawyer took charge of the IOC after winning elections in September and has been trying to instil a sense of urgency with organizers ever since.
Brazil had to face years of criticism in the run-up to the World Cup with delays in construction and completion of stadiums forcing world soccer’s governing body FIFA to say organizers “needed a kick up the backside.”
Fears of widespread protests and major problems with security and transportation failed to materialize during the month-long tournament seen overall as successful and the IOC are hoping Olympic organizers had drawn valuable conclusions for their own 16-day event.
“The World Cup is a bit like a test event for the IOC,” an Olympic source with direct knowledge of preparations told Reuters on condition of anonymity on Friday. “To be able to learn from it and use that knowledge for the Rio Olympics.”
The source also said the IOC was “explaining, explaining, explaining,” in order to avoid a backlash from citizens over huge spending for the multi-billion dollar sports event as that directed against FIFA.
While ordinary Brazilians supported their football team, many were angry at the billions their government spent for building or refurbishing stadiums and World Cup-related infrastructure projects instead of injecting the cash into social welfare projects.
The IOC would be pumping what would amount eventually to about $1.5 billion back towards local organizers through revenues generated for the event from sponsors and broadcasters, the official said.
The truth, however, remains Rio organizers have no time to waste with the first test event for the Games — sailing — set for August.
From cleaning up Guanabara Bay, site of Olympic sailing, to speeding up construction on the city’s second Olympic sports park in Deodoro, still in its infancy, to completing key transportation projects pledged in the bid file, they have their work cut out.
“This is a time where a lot of work is being done but it is not yet very visible but progress is being made. The athletes village for example is 40 percent complete,” the Olympic source said.
With the World Cup lights going out over Brazil after Sunday’s final another light will be shining brightly on the country and until 2016 it will resemble more that of an interrogation light.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Editing by Nigel Hunt