Rio seeks to allay concerns with Olympics just 2 months away
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Seeking to allay political, economic and health concerns as the games approach, Brazilian organizers assured IOC leaders on Thursday that final preparations for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro would not be derailed by the Zika outbreak, a presidential impeachment or construction delays.
With South America’s first Olympics just over two months away, Rio organizers made their final presentation to the IOC executive board ahead of the Aug. 5 opening ceremony.
“We are confident the games will take place and will be very successful,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters.
Also Thursday, the IOC cleared all four cities bidding for the 2024 Games — Los Angeles, Paris, Rome and Budapest, Hungary — to advance to the next stage of the race. Under new bidding rules, the IOC has no plans to trim the field and expects all four to go to the final vote in September 2017.
The IOC also authorized Kuwaiti athletes who qualify for the Rio Games to compete as individuals under the Olympic flag if, as expected, their national Olympic committee remains suspended for government interference. The suspension has been in place since last October, and Adams said no progress has been made since then.
IOC President Thomas Bach plans to visit Brazil from June 14-16 to check on Rio’s preparations for himself. He will meet acting President Michel Temer, who took over last month after Dilma Rousseff was suspended pending a Senate impeachment trial. A final vote on Rousseff’s removal could come just three days before the opening of the games.
Adams said Rio organizers updated the board on the political situation, noting that the games have the full support of all levels of government in Brazil, including from Temer. Rio organizing chief Carlos Nuzman said the IOC had “no questions, no concerns” over the political crisis.
Last week, a group of 150 scientists suggested the Olympics should be postponed or moved because of the outbreak of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects. But the World Health Organization said there was “no public health justification” to call off the Olympics, and the IOC has repeatedly said the games will go ahead.
“This is no public health risk with Zika” that would warrant postponing or moving the games, Nuzman said.
Nuzman said the Zika threat diminishes dramatically during Brazil’s winter months. Rio officials showed a graphic indicating the rate of infection falls significantly from June to September.
“The rate of infection drops to very low numbers, very near zero,” Rio spokesman Mario Andrada said.
Not one case of Zika was recorded during 44 test events involving 7,000 athletes and 8,000 volunteers, Andrada said, adding that Rio organizers would ramp up a public campaign to convince athletes and visitors that the games will be safe.
Nuzman said leading athletes such as Usain Bolt, Rafael Nadal, Neymar and members of the U.S. basketball team have said they have no worries about going to Rio.
However, American cyclist Tejay van Garderen withdrew his name from consideration for the games amid concerns he may contract Zika and pass it along to his pregnant wife.
“We believe women that are planning pregnancies have to take extra care and it is up to them and their family to decide,” Andrada said before van Garderen’s withdrawal was announced.
Brazil is also dealing with its worst economic recession since the 1930s, leading to the slashing of Olympic budgets. Brazilian organizers have sought financial help from the IOC, which is already contributing $1.5 billion to Rio from TV and marketing revenues and could advance payments on that amount to relieve the pressure.
While most venues are ready, the $43 million velodrome has faced serious construction delays. UCI President Brian Cookson said last week he remains “very, very concerned” about the venue, and the city announced Monday it is changing contractors to take over the project.
Andrada said Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes gave assurances the velodrome would be “up and running” by the end of the month. A training session on the track is scheduled for June 25-27.
Andrada also said ticket sales are picking up — with 67 percent sold, or 4 million out of the 6 million available.
“At this rhythm we are totally confident we will have a sold-out games,” he said.
Organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics also briefed the IOC board on Thursday, but said there was no discussion of the corruption probe centered on its winning bid. Bid leaders have acknowledged making payments, before and after the IOC vote in 2013, totaling about $2 million to a Singapore company linked to Papa Massata Diack, son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack.
The new head of Pyeongchang’s organizing committee made his first appearance before the IOC to give an update on preparations for the 2018 Games. Lee Hee-beom, a 67-year-old former government minister, took over last month after the sudden resignation of Cho Yang-ho, who stepped down to deal with financial troubles at the shipping company his family controls.