Rio mayor: Venues behind schedule

RIO DE JANEIRO -- With IOC officials in his city Wednesday to monitor progress toward the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio's mayor acknowledged that work on a large cluster of venues is far behind schedule.

Eduardo Paes made his remarks as Nawal El Moutawakel, the head of the inspection committee, reminded Rio officials that the recent Sochi Winter Olympics showcased "meticulous planning." She urged Rio organizers to meet deadlines and to explain clearly to the Brazilian public why it should back the games.

International Olympic Committee officials have criticized Rio for slow progress in preparing for the games. Many Brazilians question the billions being spent on this year's World Cup, with that sentiment spilling over to the Olympics.

"Sochi's operations were a great success, but now the world's attention is turning here to Rio and to Brazil," El Moutawakel said, addressing Rio organizers and local politicians at the start of a three-day inspection tour.

A main concern is the Deodoro area in a run-down part of northern Rio. It will house the second-largest cluster of venues, but construction has yet to begin with the games 2½ years away.

El Moutawakel has described deadlines for Rio as "very, very tight." Speaking in Sochi last month, IOC president Thomas Bach said "there is not a single day to lose" in reference to Rio's preparations.

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

"Deodoro continues to be my major concern," Paes said. "I'm paying close attention to it. We were given these works very late. But I'm very confident that we will meet the deadlines and will deliver it."

Paes contrasted this with the main cluster west of central Rio in Barra da Tijuca.

"If the Barra Olympic Park were to start now, then we would be in a very difficult situation," he said. "But since it is Deodoro, where the construction work is easier ... it's not a concern. Of course, we must pay permanent attention. Deodoro is delayed due to several problems, but we can meet all the deadlines."

The delays at Deodoro regard a dispute over what level of government was responsible for the project.

Environmental problems also dog the Rio Games. Scientists and Olympic sailors have complained about high levels of fecal pollution in Guanabara Bay -- the sailing venue -- with surface debris also endangering racers.

Rio organizers said Wednesday that sailing test events would be held in August, with the other test events between July 2015 and May 2016. The soccer venues will be in Rio, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Brasilia and Sao Paulo.

About $15 billion in public and private money will be spent on the Olympics. Brazil is officially spending about $11 billion on the World Cup, which opens June 12, with police and the military preparing for protests during the month-long tournament.

El Moutawakel brought up Sochi several times, lauding Russians for their planning.

"Good intentions are worthless if they are not backed by effective leadership and good governance," she said. "For the organizing committee of the Olympic Games, this is an extremely complex task with many moving parts and multiple constituencies. Sochi rose to this challenge by creating clear lines of authority and accountability."