Rio de Janeiro’s Olympics
The countdown starts
Compare and contrast with London
Aug 18th 2012 | from the print edition
SO NOW it is Rio de Janeiro’s turn. Brazil’s photogenic, chaotic and traffic-choked former capital has just four years left as it prepares to match London’s happy and well-organised Olympic games. A large number of Brazilian officials, starting with President Dilma Rousseff, visited the London games to pick up tips. But they stress that Rio faces different challenges.
The International Olympic Committee has expressed mild concern that work has not yet started on building the main Olympic Park. It has been delayed by arguments over where to resite a motor-racing track, and opposition from residents of a favela who don’t want to be uprooted. But city officials insist the stadiums will all be ready by 2015.
Rio is also committed to building a new metro line and three bus rapid-transit (BRT) links. The federal government plans to use private investors to improve the city’s airports. One BRT line began operating in June. “The hardware will be ready,” says Eduardo Paes, Rio de Janeiro’s mayor. But the city will have less time than London had to get it operating smoothly, he adds. The Olympic effort also involves private investors building 10,000 new hotel rooms and boosting telecoms capacity.
The Rio organisers have been liaising with their London counterparts since 2009. Brazil has asked the British government to provide an advisory team of people who took part in building and organising the London games, according to Aldo Rebelo, Brazil’s sports minister. The Brazilians say that one lesson from London is the importance of meticulous advance planning of every aspect of the games.
Rio got a taste of what can go wrong in June at an environmental summit attended by more than 100 heads of state. Many delegates suffered traffic delays, and the authorities had to step in after the travel agency which won a tender to arrange hotel bookings offered room-rates up to five times higher than usual. “We won’t make the same mistake” for the games, promises Mr Paes. The city has the chance of another rehearsal in 2014, when seven matches in the football World Cup will be played at Rio’s rebuilt Maracană stadium.
Thanks to the “Brazil cost” (see article), the games will not be cheap. Officials have yet to finalise the budget, but the draft figure of 29 billion reais ($14.4 billion) is close to the cost of the London games. Mr Paes insists it will be worth it. The games are “an exceptional opportunity” to show that Rio is a “modernised” city of thriving businesses, he says. “For 30 years the only news on the BBC about Rio was violence. Now they are showing other things. There will be criticisms, but the city’s image is being transformed.”
Brazil also has work to do inside the stadiums. It notched up 17 medals in London. The tally was two more than in Beijing, but only three were gold: its much-fancied teams contrived to lose the men’s football and volleyball finals. The Brazilian Olympic Committee’s target is to be in the top ten in the medals table in 2016. Brazilians have traditionally been good at team sports, but not in events for individuals. The committee plans to triple its spending on athletes, to $175m a year, with the money coming from the lottery, private and government sources. Of one thing, however, there can be no doubt: even if there are traffic jams, Rio will put on a great party, as it does every year at Carnival and on New Year’s Eve.