Rio Olympics: New sports minister dismisses Olympics concerns

By Vanessa Buschschluter
BBC News

Leonardo Picciani in an interview with the BBC on 6 June 2016Image source, Foto: Roberto Castro/ME
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Leonardo Picciani was appointed as sports minister less than three months before the Olympics

Brazil's Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani has told the BBC Rio de Janeiro is ready for the Olympic Games.

He dismissed concerns over unfinished building work, the outbreak of the Zika virus and political uncertainty following the suspension of President Dilma Rousseff.

Everyone going to the Games would "have a great experience", Mr Picciani said.

His remarks come a week after more than 200 scientists asked for the Games to be moved or postponed over Zika.

In an open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO), the scientists argued that the WHO declaration of Zika as a public health emergency coupled with new scientific findings underscoring the seriousness of Zika made it "unethical" for the Games to go ahead in Rio as planned.

The opening ceremony is scheduled for 5 August.

Risk assessment

The WHO initially joined the International Olympic Committee in dismissing calls for the Games to the postponed or moved.

But in a letter dated 1 June, WHO head Margaret Chan wrote that "given the current level of international concern, I have decided to ask members of the Zika Emergency Committee to examine the risks of holding the Olympic Summer Games as currently scheduled".

Mr Picciani told the BBC that "all the precautions" had been taken to prevent the spread of Zika.

The 36-year-old minister took up the post less than a month ago.

He was appointed by Michel Temer, who took over as interim president after Ms Rousseff was suspended pending an impeachment trial.

Mr Picciani said that despite the political upheaval created by Ms Rousseff's trial, the team behind the Olympics was running "seamlessly".

'Don't worry'

He said more than 2,000 health workers had been deployed to inform Rio's population on how to combat the mosquito which spreads the Zika virus.

Image source, AP
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There has been an information campaign to tell Rio residents how to protect themselves from Zika

Mr Picciani also said that holding the Games in the winter month of August should help keep the number of mosquitoes, and Zika risk, low.

Several athletes have said they are concerned about travelling to Rio because of Zika.

Mr Picciani said he was "convinced" that athletes would be safe. "All the mechanism of prevention and protection are guaranteed," he said.

He also said that of the 7,000 athletes who had taken part in 43 sporting test events between last July and this April, none had contracted Zika.

"I would say to any athlete, to any visitor planning on coming to Rio, you do not have to worry, Rio and Brazil have prepared for this moment."

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Dilma Rousseff has been suspended since she lit the Olympic torch on its arrival in Brazil

Ms Rousseff is facing an impeachment trial in the coming months in the Senate. If two-thirds of the Senators find her guilty, she will be removed from office permanently. If not, she will resume her presidency.

Asked if Ms Rousseff would attend the Games' opening ceremony - once expected to be the highlight of her second term in office - Mr Picciani said: "President Michel Temer will certainly be there at the opening.

"As for other officials, that's up to the organiser, the Olympic Committee, but Mr Temer will be there as the person accredited as the leader of the country."