Rio 2016: Getting behind the scenes

rio_olympics_2016_logo_a_pSaddleworth Independent’s sports editor Tony Bugby is reporting from his seventh Olympic Games and here he gives an unique insight into how prepared Rio de Janeiro is for the greatest show on earth.

After being in Brazil for little over 12 hours, it has become patently clear to me that the authorities are completely overwhelmed by the scale of the Olympics.

And spectators and officials alike look set for a fortnight as challenging as the athletes – they will probably earn a medal for patience and perseverance in the wake of adversity.

Queueing has become a norm and necessary evil, something that has happened since setting foot on Brazilian soil.

Due to the ridiculously inflated air fares – direct flights from London a tad under £5,000 for a ticket that would normally cost £450 at this time of year – meant nearly everybody, including athletes having to make circuitous journey.

That in itself has been a challenge with mine taking me via Sao Paolo where, after a change of airports in the city, came the final hop to the smaller of Rio’s two airports that deals only with domestic flights.

Customs at Sao Paolo’s Guarulhos International Airport was totally unprepared for the number of passengers passing through – it was mayhem, even at 5.15am when I landed.

I had four and a half hours to negotiate the authorities and catch a shuttle bus on the opposite side of the city, straightforward you would seem.

After waiting for the best part of an hour, and seemingly going nowhere, it came to the stage to queue jump along with a number of others with connecting flights.

Two hours after touchdown I finally made it to the hourly free shuttle pick-up point outside the terminal where the queue seemingly snakes for ever – there must have been 125 and I was towards the back.

The bus quickly filled and the remainder were left high and dry and told they would have to wait for the next in one hour’s time. There was no guarantee I would have made that either.

I was forced to jump into a taxi for the £45 journey, an event in itself negotiating the rush hour traffic in one of the world’s biggest cities with its 11.3million inhabitants.

What ought to have taken 30 minutes was more than one hour with the driver doing manoeuvres more in keeping with a Formula One driver – not something for the feint hearted.

It was fascinating to see the city, a massive urban sprawl with graffiti scrawled in places you would think people could never reach. I thought graffiti was bad in Berlin, but this was on a different scale.

I had been informed there would be no media transport from Santos Dumont Airport in Rio – that was only available for those arriving at the international airport.

However, due to the huge number of people arriving for the Olympics, there had been a last-minute change and transport was provided.

But it was mayhem – a word you will hear more often than once – as none of the volunteers had a clue what was going on. Despite their cheery smiles and friendliness, the training they had received was clearly lacking.

I needed to go to the main media centre to get my accreditation validated, but was told the bus was going to a transport mall where I would have to change.

There again was a further queue as there were only a handful of officials processing the accreditation with those waiting snaking outside the building.

The games were still two days away and I was informed by a media colleague that if I wanted to eat on site – that was the only option as the facilities were not close to anywhere – I should be prepared for a lengthy wait.

Trying to be clever, I decided to eat at the Deodoro Village where some media and officials from sports based there were staying. There are four hubs in Rio where the sports are taking place.

First trying to get the keys to my apartment took an eternity as the young volunteers, bless them, were clearly out of their depth.

I was supposed to be sharing with a media colleague, but we ended up each being given separate rooms in what is a military base where the accommodation has been given a facelift.

It has been upgraded and is comfortable, but I heard a comparison made to it being what you would find in East Germany in the 1980s. Some of the work certainly wouldn’t pass British safety standards but, apart from the shower not working, it is acceptable, though the cost is comparable to a five-star hotel.

Anyway back to queueing and eating at Deodoro in a vast marquee specially erected for the Olympics, that was also an experience.

There would be no more than 50 people dining, but what a rigmarole that turned out to be. First you had to queue to pay and then go to get your food from the buffet.

Goodness know what the kitchen arrangements were but there was hardly any food left and another wait before more arrived as it took 45 minutes from arriving before sitting down to eat.

Any repeat when the Games are underway, when journalists and officials are operating to tight deadlines and time schedules, and there will be flashpoints.

If there are to be teething problems, it is just as well they are happening now before the Olympics are under way as there is still time to resolve them. But, judging what I have seen so far, I am not holding my breath.

 

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