Rio 2016: challenges at the “most difficult” Games ever

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 Rio de Janeiro is coping with the greatest show on earth.

As criticisms of the organisation of the Olympic Games persist – a leading official is the latest to voice concerns – what is like on the ground in Rio de Janeiro?

Before making my own observations, let’s first examine what International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates has been saying.

International Olympic Committee officials insist they have “absolutely no regrets” about awarding the Games to Rio de Janeiro despite Coates admitting they are the “most difficult…we have ever encountered”.

Coates, also head of the Australian Olympic Committee and Court of Arbitration for Sport, was speaking specifically in relation to Brazil’s political and economic problems when making these comments.

“Seven years ago when Rio was selected, they were on the verge of being a top five GDP (Gross Domestic Product) nation in the world,” he told the BBC Today programme.

“They’re 74th now and it’s been a struggle.”

But he has also criticised a variety of other problems, including how New Zealand rugby sevens star Sonny Bill Williams had to wait for 90 minutes for an ambulance to arrive after sustaining an Achilles injury.

He said: “Every morning we have a meeting with the IOC president and vice-presidents and each of the federations and Olympic committees, and we also meet with the organising committee,” he added to The Daily Telegraph in Australia.

“But transport, there is still incidents. The Olympic lanes are working well for the athletes but Sonny Bill with the Achilles injury, the ambulance didn’t know where to go and so it took an hour-and-a-half.

“Luckily it was an Achilles and not concussion.

“Signage is still a big issue in places like Deodoro – and a few days ago, hockey spectators were getting off a train and taking the wrong route and walking four kilometres and missing their game.

“But I have to say the issues are much less now and we are getting there.”

Coates, a close ally of IOC president Thomas Bach, was also the most critical voice during preparations, saying in 2014 that they were the “worst he had experienced” in his long association with the Games.

The daily co-ordination commission meetings he refers to are usually halted a few days into a Games when teething issues have been addressed – but there appears no chance of that happening here.

As well as transport, other challenges include security, long queues and empty seats in stadiums.

There is a growing feeling that the IOC is becoming increasingly frustrated, particularly with avoidable and seemingly basic problems like a lack of catering at venues.

But IOC Presidential spokesman Mark Adams responded aggressively when asked today if they now “regret” awarding the Games to Rio in 2009.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “This is the first Games in South America.

“This is really important to us. With the problems they have here…with the economy, politics, it is really important for us to show this solidarity.

“I think we’ll look back on these Games as a really, really good thing for the Olympic movement.”

I can verify some of the issues, though as media you are often cocooned from the real world. I can only dread to think what it is like for spectators having to use public transport.

I can vouch for poor signage at venues, even for media, and at times have struggled to find where I was supposed to be heading. That wouldn’t have cost a king’s ransom to put right and make life easier for everybody, including volunteers who incur the wrath of the public.

Press and public alike are not permitted to take food or drink into venues yet, inside, the catering is desperately poor in range and exorbitant in price – it really is a rip off for poor-quality eats.

I have found it challenging at times and there have been problems, but that was always going to be the case when taking the Games to somewhere like Brazil as South America is staging the Olympics for the first time.

And that challenge has been accentuated by the fact Brazil is deep in recession. That has massively impacted on the Games with budgets slashed, something responsible for some of the glitches.

Not long ago Rio state ran out of money and had to go to the federal government for a bail out.

But one week into my stay, apart from the odd glitch, it has gone relatively smoothly as far as I am concerned. I had envisaged there would be issues, but they have not been as serious as I had feared.

Security remains the major concern with crime in Rio a massive issue – it was also the case 16 years ago when I was here to cover Manchester United in the inaugural world club championship. Then taxis coming from the international airport were regularly stopped and tourist robbed.

It feels safer on the streets, the vast military presence helping to ensure the Games take place without attack by terror groups and also minimise the threat of robberies. There are tanks and seriously armed soldiers on the streets. Some have found it unnerving, but it is reassuring as far as I am concerned.

Yet despite 85,000 military personnel being deployed on the streets of Rio, there have still been cases of journalists and photographers being robbed. With laptops and expensive cameras, they are rich pickings for muggers.

For spectators using public transport, it must be worrying because there are many places you wouldn’t want to venture to.

Only today I heard of three security personnel, brought in from outside, taking a wrong turning and ending up in a notorious favella, and all three were shot.

The transport, a key to any Olympics, has exceeded expectations and the media buses have largely been punctual and travelling between the four sporting hubs has been straightforward.

The problem has been negotiating the Deodoro hub with traffic gridlocked at peak times.

And one horror journey took 2hrs 45min to cover less than one mile between the equestrian and hockey venues.

It would have taken no more than 20 minutes on foot, but media were told to take a bus shuttle back to Deodoro Accommodation Village and another to the hockey. This was done at peak hours causing untold delays and then the second bus broke down to add insult to injury.

 

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