x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

2014 World Cup tournament a good precursor to Olympic Games for Rio

Rio 2016 officials joke that the recently completed 2014 Fifa World Cup was merely a test event for the real thing, the 2016 Olympic Games.

This aerial view shows Olympic Park and the nearby Athletes Village in Rio de Janeiro under construction in the area that previously occupied by the Jacarepagua Autodrome. Brazil now begins the task of preparing Rio's 2016 Olympic venues, an an even larger challenge than the 2014 Fifa World Cup tournament the country just hosted. Leo Correa / AP Photo
This aerial view shows Olympic Park and the nearby Athletes Village in Rio de Janeiro under construction in the area that previously occupied by the Jacarepagua Autodrome. Brazil now begins the task of preparing Rio's 2016 Olympic venues, an an even larger challenge than the 2014 Fifa World Cup tournament the country just hosted. Leo Correa / AP Photo

RIO DE JANEIRO // In the lobby of the Rio 2016 headquarters, below the various painted-white sports balls that hang from the ceiling, officials joke that the recently completed 2014 Fifa World Cup was merely a test event for the real thing, the 2016 Olympic Games.

Brazil is set to become only the fifth nation to host the world’s two most-watched sporting events in succession and arguably the first in the era of round-the-clock news coverage, complex scheduling, mammoth venue and infrastructure requirements, and increased expectations by athletes, sponsors and fans.

With the World Cup successfully climaxing a little more than three weeks ago, Brazil – and particularly Rio de Janeiro – is now proudly halfway towards pulling off its master plan.

Today marks two years until the opening ceremony of South America’s first Olympic Games.

Sand artists positioned along Rio’s famous Copacabana beach have sculpted the Rio 2016 logo and, up the coastline, Marina da Gloria is decked out in Olympic signage as it holds the city’s first official test, a sailing regatta.

Yet officials for the picture-postcard metropolis are quickly learning that hosting the equivalent of 28 world championships simultaneously across 16 days is a vastly more perplexing task than holding seven World Cup games in a month. Instead of a dozen cities welcoming one sport, Rio is one city welcoming dozens of sports.

“The World Cup, for us, was a really good test, that is the joke we always make,” said Rodrigo Garcia, the director for sports on the Rio 2016 committee.

“Seriously, though, it was great to evaluate all the services from the city, state and federal governments, and also for us to analyse what was correctly and incorrectly planned.

“For instance, the mobility model used during Rio 2016 will be completely different from what was used during the World Cup.”

By 2016, the Bus Rapid Transit System that was only partly operational last month is expected to be complete.

A tunnel and 14-kilometre metro-line extension linking the western region of Barra da Tijuca – home of the Olympic Park – with the rest of the city is also scheduled.

On the streets, the people are less impressed.

Paolo Giorgini, watching the sunset over Botafogo, said the same issues that plagued the World Cup are already evident with the Olympics planning.

“The government need to start the actions that are required, but for now it is just talk, talk, talk,” he said.

“The problem is a lot of the infrastructure that should be done for the Olympic Games has not even started yet. It is like the World Cup – it might get finished, but some of it will be rushed and will cost more money because of that.”

As a result, fears are being voiced that residents may again take to the streets in protest, as they did against the excessive expenditure outlaid for football venues for last month’s tournament.

So the World Cup may prove to have been a test run, in more ways than one.

“I think you know Brazilians go crazy for football,” said Evandro Ferreira, a Sao Paulo resident vacationing in Rio. “It is not that people do not love the likes of sailing and swimming, but rather they do not know these sports.

“Hopefully, the Olympics will help change that, and more people will take an interest in more sports so we can stop with this mania surrounding football. But until then, it would not surprise me if people protest about spending lots of money on sports they don’t know so much about.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE