The head of Olympic summer sports federations called for urgent action on Tuesday to tackle critical delays facing the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and accused the Brazilian government of neglecting the crisis.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) president Francesco Ricci Bitti said Rio’s troubled preparations are reaching a stage where some sports may need to consider “Plan B” options for their venues.
“It’s getting very serious,” the Italian said. “We have an organizing committee with good people, but without the leverage to cope with the problem... We are scared. This is not a country like China where you can ask people to work by night. In Brazil, this could not happen. The government has to change speed.”
Bitti heads the ASOIF, which represents the 28 sports in the Rio Games, leads the International Tennis Federation and serves on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) coordination commission for Rio, which made its latest visit to Brazil two weeks ago.
“We can be flexible in the infrastructure, but surely not in the sports venues and we are at risk at sports venues,” Bitti said. “Even for the ones that don’t consider themselves at risk, we don’t see a sense of urgency.”
The timetables are so tight that backup plans may need to be considered by some sports, he said. “We have to sit down and to start looking at some Plan B’s.”
Rio’s problems dominated discussions at the ASOIF general assembly, which took place during the SportAccord convention in a Mediterranean resort in southern Turkey. Rio is also to top the agenda for meetings of the IOC executive board, which was to meet at the same location yesterday and today.
“We need to act now because if we wait another six months, as it could be looking at the inactivity of the [Brazilian] government, I think it will become very serious,” Bitti said. “The organizing committee is doing its best, but the government is not supporting enough.”
Brazil is also struggling with delays ahead of hosting the soccer World Cup this summer.
With the country focusing on the World Cup, the Olympic preparations risk falling further behind, Bitti said.
“We can’t always hope in the fact that in the end we will solve the problem,” he said. “This time we have the style and the habits of the South Americans. They are not used to managing big events like this. The Olympics is a very different problem from the World Cup. The World Cup in the end is one stadium, one hotel, in many cities. Rio has a lot of problems.”
Rio organizing committee chief Carlos Nuzman and CEO Sidney Levy met in Brasilia on Tuesday with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s chief of staff to discuss the Olympics.
It was left to Rio’s executive sports director, Agberto Guimaraes, to report to the federations in Turkey.
“I still think we can pull this thing together and can have great Games,” he told the delegates. “At the moment, I don’t think I will give my resignation. I still believe we can do it. Please help me get through this alive and well.”
IOC deputy executive director for the Olympic Games Christophe Dubi said the IOC would be sending special task forces to Rio to monitor the situation.
The first group will consist of construction experts, he said.
“We have to have special measures in place,” he said.
Dubi said that Gilbert Felli, the IOC’s long-time executive director, has been assigned to work with Rio after he steps down from his post later this year.
The meetings in Turkey come amid a daily drumbeat of troubles in Brazil. On Monday, striking construction workers and security personnel clashed at Rio’s Olympic Park. Gunshots were fired, but no injuries were reported.
Workers also went on strike on Monday at the Olympic stadium that will be used for track and field at the Games. The venue has been closed since last year to fix problems with its roof.
Guimaraes said the repair work would be completed by December.
The greatest concerns center on the Deodoro complex, an area that is to host venues for eight sports. Work has yet to begin on the site.
In addition, work on the Olympic golf course is far behind schedule, raising concerns for the sport’s return to the games after more than a century.
Guimaraes said grass would begin to be laid on the course later this month and the venue would be ready by September next year.