Rio Olympics organisers call for patience as two-year countdown begins

Rio mayor calls for calm as two-year countdown begins on trouble 2016 Olympic Games, Gary Meenaghan writes from Brazil

Aerial view of the construction site of the Olympic park for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games at Barra da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro on June 28, 2014. Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP
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RIO DE JANEIRO // Brazilian officials have called for calm amid escalating fears that preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will be left until the last minute, or worse.

Two years ahead of the opening ceremony, which will be on August 5, 2016, several infrastructure projects are behind schedule, some planned venues have only recently broken ground and the mayor of Rio has conceded at least one bid promise will not be met.

Senior figures within the International Olympic Committee have expressed their concerns that Rio was further behind on its plans than even Athens in 2004.

Such delays are no surprise in a country that pushed Fifa's deadlines to the absolute limit in the lead-up to the recent World Cup and where residents are famously renowned for poor timekeeping.

But Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio, said last month's successful summer football showcase has only boosted his belief that the Games will be delivered on time.

“I have no doubt that the success of the World Cup helps the Olympics quite a lot,” Paes said.

“We have suffered all of the criticisms – some were relevant, some were unfounded – but we took it all on and we delivered, so the lesson learnt is the journey does not need to be so painful.

“Brazilians are not well known for being on time or meeting deadlines, but this is a good chance to show that we can be on time and can deliver. We do not have to be beaten up. Demands can be high, but we do not need to become martyrs.”

Luiz Fernandes, as the executive secretary for Brazil’s ministry of sports, was involved in delivering the World Cup and has shifted more of his attention to 2016.

He said he has “every conviction” the Games will be delivered on time and highlighted the acceleration of construction in recent weeks.

Work finally began last month on the northern Deodoro Sports Complex, which will host 11 Olympic sports, while shifts at the sprawling Olympic Park in the southern neighbourhood of Barra da Tijuca were recently extended to 24 hours per day. Grass has been planted and is at the growing-in stage at the nearby golf course.

“I have the same certainty I had with the World Cup,” Fernandes said. “We were certain that we would deliver the World Cup with the necessary quality and I have the same conviction here with the Olympics.

“We have absolute confidence that the games will be delivered with the necessary quality that people expect. All I would ask for is a vote of confidence.”

One of the criticisms of the World Cup was that, such were the high cost of tickets, it excluded much of the Brazilian population.

Paes said that to combat that scenario in two years time, the city government will subsidise 1.2 million of the eight million tickets being made available and distribute them among Rio schoolchildren.

“We will ensure all the kids in public schools will be able to attend at least one event of the Games,” he said.

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