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Rio scrambles to fix Olympic Village after Australia boycott

Monday, 25 July 2016

L-R: Bazilian former basketball player and Mayor of the Olympic Village, Janeth Arcain, President of the Brazilian Olympic Committee Carlos Nuzman and Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Eduardo Paes cut the ribbon during opening ceremony of the Olympic Village
L-R: Bazilian former basketball player and Mayor of the Olympic Village, Janeth Arcain, President of the Brazilian Olympic Committee Carlos Nuzman and Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor Eduardo Paes cut the ribbon during opening ceremony of the Olympic Village

The official opening of the Olympic Village in Rio turned to fiasco Sunday with the discovery of blocked toilets and leaky pipes, prompting Australia to call the facility “not safe or ready.”

Even Brazilian athletes who were meant to have started taking up lodgings in the brand-new complex from Sunday were being kept in hotels instead.

Britain’s delegation, however, said that while it had encountered some “maintenance difficulties,” it was staying in the Village as planned.

Rio’s Olympic organizers said such teething problems plagued all Olympic Games. They promised that “adjustments” were being made to resolve the problems.

The Olympic Games — the first to be held in South America — are to open on August 5, less than two weeks away.

The lack of preparedness in the Olympic Village was another embarrassing blow for host Brazil, which is struggling to show all will be well with the Olympiad.

It is already facing low ticket sales, general public apathy amid a deep recession, fears over the Zika virus, and a spike in street crime as police complain of lack of resources.

Australia’s delegation highlighted the poor state of the Village, 31-building complex located in the Barra da Tijuca district in the west of Rio de Janeiro designed to house more than 18,000 athletes and coaching staff over the coming weeks.

“Problems include blocked toilets, leaking pipes, exposed wiring, darkened stairwells where no lighting has been installed and dirty floors in need of a massive clean,” the head of the Australian team, Kitty Chiller, said in a statement.

During a test involving taps and toilets being turned on in apartments on several floors, “water came down walls, there was a strong smell of gas in some apartments and there was ‘shorting’ in the electrical wiring.”

Chiller later told reporters: “This is my fifth Olympics Games, I have never experienced a Village in this lack of state of readiness at this point in time.”

She added that, “in our mind, our building is not habitable” and the Australian team would stay on in nearby hotels.

But she said a team of plumbers was already at work to fix the problems and “I am reasonably confident that we will be able to enter the Village on Wednesday.”

The rest of the village, she said, “is one of the best” she had seen.

A spokesman for the British delegation confirmed similar problems to AFP, but noted “this is not uncommon with new build structures of this type.”

– Russia to participate –

As dire as the Australian description of the Village sounded, one of the 207 delegations was relieved on Sunday to find out its athletes would be able to make it to Rio at all.

Russia, whose participation had been uncertain following revelations of state-run doping, hailed a decision by the International Olympic Committee to not impose a blanket ban on all its sportsmen and women.

The IOC ordered individual sports federations to decide whether Russian competitors should take part in the Rio Games.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko responded by telling R-Sport news agency: “I am absolutely sure that the majority of the Russian team will meet the criteria.”

If all the obstacles in the Village are surmounted, the athletes will find a self-contained community planned to have all the services they need over the 17-day Olympiad.

The official lodgings are shared rooms, all fairly basic, fitted with anti-mosquito devices to prevent the spread of Zika. Hundreds of thousands of condoms were also being supplied.

There is a gigantic eating hall, a smaller restaurant, and prayer rooms for different faiths.

There is even a “mayor” to head up the athlete welcoming ceremonies: Janeth Arcain, a retired Brazilian basketballer who won a silver Olympic medal in 1996 and a bronze in 2000.

– Boosted security –

Security, naturally, will be high around the complex, and around Rio generally.

The arrest Thursday of 10 Brazilians suspected of planning attacks during the Olympics revived memories of the Munich Games in 1972 when an armed Palestinian group took Israeli athletes hostage and killed 11 of them.

Brazilian Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said the suspects were “absolutely amateur,” “disorganised” and had no specific targets.

But recent attacks, such as the one on July 14 in Nice, France that killed 84 people, have prompted officials to bolster their security plans, notably by reinforcing checks and screenings.

From Sunday, some 50,000 police and soldiers are being deployed in Rio to protect sports venues, tourist spots and key transport areas.

Source by: AFP

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