* Preparations for 2016 summer games costly, slow
* Rio struggling with infrastructure, social problems
* Carnival, World Cup, give Rio a leg-up
By Anna Irrera and Paulo Prada
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 13 As the calm settled over
London's Olympic Stadium after closing ceremonies on Sunday, the
pressure was mounting in Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 games.
When Rio was awarded the games three years ago, it was
hailed as a rite of passage for Brazil, Latin America's biggest
country and an economy that is now the world's sixth largest.
Along with the soccer World Cup, to be held in Rio and 11
other Brazilian cities in 2014, the Olympics would show that
Brazil was finally reaching long-elusive, first-world goals.
But the exuberant celebrations which greeted the decision to
award Rio the games are giving way to trepidation in this
seaside metropolis of 6.5 million people.
Construction delays, cost overruns and overburdened
airports, roads and subway lines give locals a sense that Rio,
the first South American city to be awarded the Olympics, has a
long way to go if is to stage the event as seamlessly as London.
Part of the unease has to do with the sense that Rio,
despite its long history as a global attraction, is still
playing catch-up with the developed world.
Even after a recent economic boom in Brazil, soaring
investment because of the sporting events and an ongoing rush to
develop massive new offshore oil fields due south of the city's
beaches, Rio remains pock-marked by poor development.
"Brazil and Rio have four years to do all those things that
have not been done in 400," said Alberto Murray Neto, a Sao
Paulo attorney and past member of Brazil's Olympic committee.
The task is huge. Brazil's tourism ministry expects almost
400,000 foreign tourists for the games, in addition to hundreds
of thousands of Brazilians who themselves will add to the crush
on airports, hotels, roads and other infrastructure.
Meanwhile, costs for Olympic projects are soaring, as the
investment boom and Brazil's high taxes and labour costs, known
locally as the "Brazil Cost", inflate the price of everything
from construction cranes to beachside coconuts.
The cost of the games, critics fear, could far exceed
initial estimates of 29 billion reais ($14.4 billion).
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, who lands from London with the
official Olympic flag on Monday, said in a recent briefing that
an updated budget isn't possible yet.
Luis Fernandes, executive secretary of the Brazilian sports
ministry, also sidestepped the issue, telling reporters in
London on Monday: "We can only disclose the cost of the Olympics
when everything is ready.
"In this budget, there are certain aspects we have to take
note, when it comes to sporting venues that will be prepared and
constructed," he said through a translator.
"Our horizon is to base ourselves in the main, original
programme we proposed."
A LOT TO DO
So far, very little is ready. During their last visit in
June, members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said
"the timelines for delivery are already very tight and the
amount of work to be completed is considerable."
Most troubling, said the IOC, is that Rio has yet to begin
building the Olympic Park and complex of buildings that will
host most competitions and media facilities.
Paes and other city officials remain upbeat. Leonardo
Gryner, chief of the Rio organizing committee, in London last
week said all sports facilities would be ready by 2015 with
ample leeway for testing.
Rio is no newcomer to big events.
The city's famed carnival celebrations attract more than
800,000 revelers each year. Big concerts and New Year's
festivities on Copacabana beach have attracted over one million.
Rio hosted the 2007 Pan American games, though critics
recall that event was also marred by cost overruns and a lack of
On Monday, O Globo, Rio's biggest daily newspaper, featured
a photograph of a dirty and tattered flag over a Pan American
memorial, calling it "a portrait of abandon."
Maracana, Rio's main soccer stadium, was rebuilt for the
occasion, only to be razed again to be re-constructed for the
2014 World Cup.
Rio officials tout ongoing efforts to spruce up the city
after decades of disrepair.
Until Brazil's recent boom helped begin reviving its
fortunes, Rio suffered from a lack of investment, soaring crime
rates, and the encroachment of favelas, the city's well-known
shantytowns, into its verdant hillsides.
And despite recent progress, development hurdles remain.
Rio's airports, like those elsewhere in Brazil, are
notoriously crammed and have strained with air traffic growth.
Plans for a high-speed rail link between Rio and Sao Paulo,
Brazil's biggest city, are so far behind schedule that officials
concede it won't be running in time for the games.
The line would be a major step forward for a country with
few long-distance passenger rail links and where long bus and
car journeys, often over rickety roads, are the only alternative
And Rio's streets, already constrained by its hills and a
wraparound waterfront, are clogged daily by traffic.
"Moving around the city is nearly impossible under normal
circumstances," said Christopher Gaffney, an urbanism professor
at Fluminense Federal University. "I don't see how they expect
to add users."
So scarce are the city's hotel rooms, even after an
additional 10,000 are built for the games, that officials plan
to use cruise liners for extra accommodation.
Hotel operators, like other industries hurt by Brazil's poor
school system, are scrambling to find skilled workers.
Consumers, meanwhile, worry about price gouging.
Brazil's government this year had to step in and force Rio
hotels to cut prices ahead of a major United Nations environment
summit. Before the June summit, hotels were charging as much as
five times the normal room rates.
Social problems also complicate planning.
New roads and rail lines being built to reach Olympic
venues, in the city's far-flung southern suburbs, will run right
through some of Rio's poorest neighborhoods.
Residents of Vila Autodromo, a favela of 500 families, are
among tens of thousands who could be evicted by construction of
While a security crackdown has reduced violence in many
neighborhoods, the improvements are mostly along the coastal
corridor where most of the Olympic-related activity will take
place, displacing the problems to formerly quiet corners.
Gryner, the Rio committee chief, said that Rio had learned
"a lot" from the London games. "We are taking that back to our
teams," he said, "we are improving our planning processes."
But critics fear only so much can be carried over from a
first-world city to one where basic public services are often
"We are comparing a developed country with an
under-developed country, which still has a lot to do," said
Murray Neto, the former Brazilian Olympic official.