Rio’s Olympic countdown: Will the city be ready?

Rio de Janeiro, Aug 5 (IANS) Just a year away from the first Olympic Games to be held in South America in the Brazilian city of Rio, organisers say the city’s preparations are on track and within the forecast budget.

Despite concerns from local and international media about water pollution and logistics bottlenecks, Rio 2016 deputy CEO Leonardo Gryner has said preparations are “exactly where we would expect them to be”, reports Xinhua.

“The biggest challenge now is that we are turning ourselves into an operational organisation,” Gryner said on Tuesday.

“Until now we have been planning venues, planning lots of different aspects of the city, the flow of people and how to split our operations around the city. But that part is over. We have finished all of the planning and now we are turning into an operating organisation.”

“The venue managers are the new leaders. The whole functioning of this organisation will come from the venues identified to host different disciplines,” he added.

Media reports have shed light on Rio’s ongoing challenge to clean Guanabara Bay, which will host the sailing competition. There are also concerns about water quality at the Rodrigo de Freitas lake, which will stage rowing and canoeing.

According to Gryner, work is being carried out to ensure both venues are suitable for competition. At Guanabara Bay, eco-barriers are being placed in the water to prevent waste flowing in from connecting rivers. Eco-boats are also being used to collect rubbish from the water’s surface.

“It’s a huge bay and we have challenges here that will take 10 years or more to fix,” Gryner said.

“The water comes from 11 rivers that are part of 16 different cities around the bay. In order to clean this bay we have to stop throwing garbage and waste into the rivers that flow into the bay. It’s a huge challenge.”

In addition to eco-barriers and eco-boats, the government is redirecting a large storm water outlet at Marina da Gloria – where sailing events will begin – to Ipanema beach in the city’s south.

Gryner said that these measures, along with the strategic placement of the course, ensured sailing events would not be impacted by pollution.

“We are placing the yachting course along a channel which, because of its width and depth, has a very constant change of water with the open sea. It’s clean water with dolphins living there. If you go now to any of the locations where we will host races, we have water that is at good levels according to any international standards.

“In 2009, when we bid, only 12-13 percent of the sewage that went into the bay was treated. Now that’s a little bit over 50 percent. The conditions will still be enhanced considerably as a result of the Olympic Games,” he added.

Another problem that is not so easily resolved at the lake, according to Gryner, is garbage. He said trash found its way into the water from a network of surrounding rivers, complicating the cleanup project.

The Olympic golf course, which is located next to a nature reserve, is also a problem. Environmentalists say the course has threatened native animal and plant species. But Gryner said it has had a contrary effect.

“The golf course was a very damaged and degraded area due to wrongdoings in the past. People devastated the vegetation and the animals that lived in the area,” he said.

“Since we started developing the golf course there has been a plan to restore wildlife in the area and we have seen the return of animals and plants since the project began.”

While work continues apace at the Deodoro and Barra Olympic Park venue clusters, contracts are yet to be signed for the construction of temporary venues for beach volleyball, mountain bike riding, cycling, equestrian, triathlon and the swimming marathon.

Of all the issues surrounding the Games preparations, perhaps the most sensitive has been the relocation of residents from the Vila Autodromo slum.

Located directly next to the Olympic Park complex, Vila Autodromo is disappearing fast as bulldozers destroy the remaining homes.

Residents have been offered alternative housing and even financial compensation to leave but some have refused.

According to Gryner, there have been no forced evictions and residents may stay if they choose.

“We think the city acted very properly in this case. There were no forced evictions. They have been offered a choice. I think it was the proper way to address the situation,” Gryner said.

Despite the difficulties, Gryner said the vast majority of Rio’s inhabitants supported the Games, due mainly to a long list of legacy projects. Among them is the redevelopment of the city’s port region, a new subway line, additional express bus lanes and a light rail service.


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