2016 Olympics organisers hope for post-Games Rio revival

Wyre Davies
Rio de Janeiro correspondent

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The BBC's Wyre Davies takes a helicopter tour over Rio de Janeiro to survey the preparations for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games

Little more than a year ago, International Olympic Committee Vice-President John Coates, described Rio de Janeiro's preparations for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games as the "worst ever".

Wounded and spurred into action, organisers reacted positively and with just 12 months to go before the opening ceremony, few people here are in any doubt that the venues will be ready for competition.

A helicopter tour over the main Olympic Park in the Barra zone to the south of Rio reveals stadiums well on the way to completion and little need at this stage for night-time or weekend construction.

The BBC toured the site with the man whose political future depends on the success of the 2016 Games - Rio's charismatic and sometimes outspoken mayor, Eduardo Paes.


Mr Paes does a valiant job of defending the $12bn (£7.7bn) budget - much cheaper than the recent Beijing or Sochi Games and about the same cost as the 2012 London Olympics.

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Organisers say work at the Olympic Park is continuing apace

Mr Paes also claims that no other host city in Olympic history will have been as transformed by the Games as Rio.

"You cannot come here and compare London to Rio - it's a different level of development. You've got to compare Rio to Rio - when we got the Olympics in 2009 and what city we are delivering next year," says the man tipped for higher office if he pulls off a successful Games.

"It's going to be a much more integrated city and I think the city has already changed a lot because of the Olympics," he adds.

The mayor's basic narrative is that there are things happening in Rio today that simply would not have got off the ground if it was not for the momentum of the Olympics.

Water worries

But not all change has been welcomed. When residents of Vila Autodromo, a favela, or shantytown, were forcibly evicted from the edge of the Olympic Park there were violent protests.

The residents, most of whom have now left despite having legal titles to their homes, have been compensated.

But the lasting impression is that they were only moved on because they were poor, an eyesore.

Property developers will arguably be the real beneficiaries from the Olympic windfall.

As the BBC has reported on many occasions, appalling water quality around Rio has been another constant headache for Olympic organisers.

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Pollution continues to be a problem
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The pollution is clearly visible from the air

The mayor's office now admits Rio has failed to keep promises to clean the chronically polluted Guanabara Bay ahead of the Games.

With the IOC belatedly testing the waters for viruses, local Olympians like sailor Martine Grael are frustrated at the lack of action.

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Martine Grael would like to see a long-term solution

"My principal concern is the future as we'll keep on sailing after the Games," she told me.

"I think we had a lot of time to clean it. Meanwhile a lot of people are coming for the test events and training in Rio, and they take a look at the water and think it's gross!"


Eduardo Paes' office may not be directly responsible for issues like water quality and transport but he knows a successful Games depends on infrastructure as much as it does on completed sporting arenas.

With that in mind, a key feature is the completion of the city's new metro line, Linea 4, linking the city centre and the Olympic Park.

There have been recent warnings and leaks from official sources that the work may not be completed in time for August 2016.

Mayor Paes does little to dispel those concerns when he suggests that it is not that important whether the job is finished before or after the Games, because this is a "legacy project" intended for the long-term benefit of the city.

Olympic chiefs will not buy that.

They have made it clear that the metro and other new transport links are a vital part of connecting Rio's four distinct Olympic zones. It simply has to be completed on time.

But deadlines are incredibly tight and, unlike construction at the sporting venues, metro workers are working around the clock in the hot, dusty conditions underground.

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While new roads are under construction, the metro line is lagging behind
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Work in the tunnels is tough as conditions are hot and dusty

On the sporting front, at least, things are moving fast. Test events, including the triathlon, on the iconic Copacabana beach, have already begun and are being well supported.

More are scheduled soon for the former military base at Deodoro.

Despite some questions about the benefits of big set-piece events like the Olympic Games and the World Cup, most here believe sport can be a catalyst for change.

"We have the experience of Barcelona where there was a huge transformation before and after the Olympics," one Spanish spectator told me.

"An old industrial area was transformed and that was a good example of something that can be done. I hope and think that Rio is trying to do the same and I'm sure it can do it."

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Triathletes have been holding test events in Rio
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The athletes' village, which can house 18,000 people, looks out onto a lagoon

Other issues like crime and security in one of the world's most violent cities will preoccupy organisers, especially with some 400,000 tourists expected over the duration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

But Rio de Janeiro is undoubtedly one of the World's great cities, an iconic backdrop for the Games.

The challenge now in this last year before the torch is lit at the Maracana Stadium is building a legacy - making sure the Olympics are a springboard to improve services and conditions across the entire city.

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