x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rio's race to be ready for 2016 Olympics starts in earnest

Observers say efficiency and punctuality have never been the country's strong suit, and many are bracing for a rocky ride as Rio rushes to build the city's four main Olympic sites and undertakes a massive, pre-games infrastructure overhaul.

RIO DE JANEIRO // The snuffing out of the Olympic flame in London on Sunday was a conclusion for most.

But for the 2016 host city, Rio de Janeiro, it kicked off four years of pre-Games jitters and a race against the clock to prepare this laid-back beach city for the sports showcase.

Playing Olympic host is a high-stakes bet for any country, but Brazil seems to have more riding on the outcome than most.

The nation has enjoyed an economic surge in the past decade, overtaking Britain as the world's sixth-biggest economy. Brazilians regard the Olympics as their grand entrance on to the world stage.

Observers say efficiency and punctuality have never been the country's strong suit, and many are bracing for a rocky ride as Rio rushes to build the city's four main Olympic sites and undertakes a massive, pre-games infrastructure overhaul.

Rio is also one of 12 Brazilian cities gearing up to host the World Cup football tournament in 2014.

"On the ground, we can expect ... cost overruns and a rush to push through projects," said the American academic Christopher Gaffney. He is a visiting professor at the graduate school of architecture and urban planning at the Fluminense Federal University in Rio's sister city, Niteroi. His research focuses on preparations for the World Cup and Olympics.

"Cariocas [Rio's residents] will see their cost of living increase, their streets clogged and the branding of their public spaces," he added. "While the Brazilians will undoubtedly pull together a great party, the hangover will last for a generation."

More than 230 projects are slated to be finished by 2016. Of those, about 65 are complete or in the final stages. That leaves a lot of projects.

"Time is an adversary but time is also on our side," said Leonardo Gryner, the chief executive of the Rio 2016 organising committee, on Friday. "We'll get a few cold sweats but this is normal."

City, state and local governments are investing nearly US$12 billion (Dh44bn) in infrastructure projects to revitalise derelict urban areas and ease the chronic transport woes. The plans include a new metro line, a revamped airport, improved roads and a renovated port.

Many projects have been tainted by controversy. Amnesty International and the United Nations have highlighted allegations of human- rights abuses over the eviction of families. About 170,000 people face a threat to their housing or have already been removed, according to a residents' advocacy group.

Organisers also acknowledged a shortage of hotel rooms. More than two million visitors entered London's Olympic Park during the Games. Rio's hotel capacity stands at about 33,000 beds.