Olympic logistics: Is Rio ready?
published : 27 Jul 2016 at 04:00
newspaper section: Business
writer: Chris Catto-Smith
Amid the seemingly endless string of global calamities, terror attacks and the raucous US political conventions, it may have slipped your mind that the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics is just nine days away.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is facing a staggering range of problems involved in mounting one of the world's most complex logistics events in one of its most chaotic cities. But it is the Rio state government that finds itself on the receiving end of most of the criticism.
As Sally Jenkins wrote in the Washington Post: "Half a million people will descend on Rio for the Summer Games commencing next week, with a security force of just 85,000 to keep them safe from terrorists and roving bandits. Many of those security staff are resentful, underpaid law enforcement officers with out-of-fuel cars and grounded helicopters in the midst of the country's worst economy since the 1930s who were already trying to cope with one of the most seething, crime-ridden cities on earth.
"In the past year, state hospitals have lacked basic supplies, and medical facilities have cut hours. So only the highly optimistic will take seriously the IOC's confident declaration issued on Monday that 'Rio is ready'. And just hope that if there's real trouble, Mother Gaia or some invisible superhero Skyman will descend to save everyone should the hour turn darkest."
Many of the predictable problems have already been reported such as the athletes' village not being ready. Australia's Olympic team on Sunday complained of uninhabitable and unsafe rooms and refused to check in.
"Problems included blocked toilets, leaking pipes, exposed wiring, darkened stairwells where no lighting has been installed and dirty floors in need of a massive cleaning," said Kitty Chiller, who heads the Australian team.
During a test of the facility involving taps and toilets operating on multiple floors of the new complex, "water came down walls, there was a strong smell of gas in some apartments and there was shorting in the electrical wiring", she added.
However, after what they called a "fantastic" effort by the Brazilians to fix the problems, the Australians decided to move in after all. New Zealand and the UK also complained but have decided to remain at the complex.
Other problems range from poor water quality and submerged rubbish at the aquatic events to delays in completing the construction of an important metro station.
One of the major challenges as the 15,000 or so competitors arrive in the Olympic Village is how to provide up to 60,000 meals a day, according to Joe Leahy of the Financial Times. Currently two massive catering tents have been set up supported by some 300 chefs. It's no mean feat to ensure sufficient food availability and food safety, which includes all ingredients needing to be inspected centrally before they can be sent to the village for preparation.
There is also a range of complexities when food is prepared for athletes from different cultures, many of whom bring their own ingredients from their home countries.
The build-up to the Games has also been overshadowed by the global terrorist threat, which has introduced a range of complications, including thorough pre-screening of everyone who enters the facilities. A small army of 200,000 temporary workers has been assembled to tackle a logistical support effort the size of a military campaign.
The next largest contingent of workers, apart from the competitors, are the media members covering the event, with numbers estimated at 25,000 accredited and 7,000 non-accredited press and supporting technical staff. The huge media centre, according to the FT, is connected to cables weighing three tonnes, while 1,000 container-sized diesel generators are being used to provide backup power to it and other Olympic facilities. Public transport for journalists, officials and others alone comprises a fleet of 1,200 buses.
The Rio 2016 organising committee, reliant on funding from the IOC, sponsorships, ticket sales and other private-sector sources, has economised on the capital infrastructure and works projects. Many buildings have been designated as temporary structures to be removed after the Games, with minimal internal fitout, such as air-conditioning, thus relying on natural ventilation.
Meanwhile, organisers are coping with low ticket sales, public apathy, fear of the Zika virus and a spike in street crime. With Brazil's economy in recession, politicians engulfed by corruption allegations and President Dilma Rousseff suspended pending an impeachment process, the public is even questioning whether this was a good time to be holding the world's greatest sporting spectacle.
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