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Rio Games: Crucial meeting next week over funding

- Associated Press - Friday, March 21, 2014

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics face "challenging deadlines," the head an IOC inspection committee said Friday, adding that a meeting with top government officials next week will be "crucial" in finalizing funding and venue planning for the games.

With the Rio Games just 2 1/2 years away, Nawal El Moutawakel said inspectors witnessed "improvements on the ground" but that many projects face tight deadlines.

The Rio Games - like Brazil's World Cup in under three months - have been plagued by delays and concerns about the lack of coordination among Brazil's three levels of government.

El Moutawakel said the meeting Thursday in Brasilia would include "top levels of government," which might include Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

"It is expected that the responsibility of games-related progress will be clarified along with associated funding in order to avoid further significant delays in the delivery of the projects," El Moutawakel said. "A successful outcome at that meeting is fundamentally important for the games."

Carlos Nuzman, president of the local organizing committee, played down the importance of the meeting, but he was contradicted by Gilbert Felli, the IOC's executive director of the Olympic Games.

"At one point ... they have to decide who is doing what," Felli said. "At some point they have to take decisions, otherwise the project cannot go forward."

Brazilian Olympic officials and government leaders are under pressure to control spending - or at least to be seen to be doing so. Cost overruns and delays have characterized Brazil's buildup to this year's World Cup, with protests expected centering on poor public services while billions are spent on sporting venues.

Olympics officials hope to convey an image of prudence.

Rio organizers announced a $3 billion operating budget in January - money to run only the games themselves. A few days later Brazilian government officials said the country would spend an added $2.3 billion on about half of all infrastructure projects needed specifically for the Rio Games, with the total cost unknown.

Officials said remaining projects would drive cost higher, but have offered no estimate.

Most estimates suggest Brazil will spend about $15 billion on the Olympics, a mix of public and private money.

The project most caught up in rejiggered budgeting and shifting responsibility is Deodoro, a rundown area of northern Rio de Janeiro that will house the second largest cluster of venues. Construction has yet to begin there, and it is unclear when it will.

Deodoro will host events like shooting, hockey, equestrian, canoeing and BMX. Some basketball games are also to be played there.

El Moutawakel said that "until ground is broken, Deodoro remains a project under intense pressure."

El Moutawakel was also peppered with questions about severe water pollution in Guanabara Bay, the venue for sailing. Olympic sailors competing there in December characterized it as a "sewer," and several said it was the dirtiest place they had ever competed.

Almost 70 percent Rio's sewage enters the bay untreated, with levels of fecal pollution far above safe levels.

"We have been given assurances and confirmation that the bay will be clean from garbage, and the water will be clean for the safety and security of the athletes," El Moutawakel said. "I don't think we will forgive ourselves if we let the athletes compete in an environment that is not safe and secure."

Environmentalists say floating debris can be swept from the bay, but the fecal pollution will be impossible to remove in time for the games - or a test sailing event set for August.

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