Rio 2016 Olympics facing deep cuts unseen in decades

  • AP, Rio De Janeiro
  • Updated: Jan 16, 2016 12:33 IST
Rio organizers are scaling down everywhere to eliminate about $500 million to balance the operating budget of 7.4 billion reals ($1.85 billion). (AFP Photo)

Cuts, cuts and more cuts.

That’s the situation facing international sports federations, with just over six months to go before the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazilian organizers will be meeting next month with federation leaders, and World Rowing executive director Matt Smith already knows what to expect: He’s bracing for news that 4,000 temporary grandstand seats at the rowing Olympic venue won’t be built.

At the swimming venue, several thousand seats have already been slashed. And the world governing body for sailing learned more than a year ago that bleachers it wanted had been ruled out.

Television viewers won’t notice when South America’s first Olympics open on Aug. 5, but Rio organizers are scaling down everywhere to eliminate about $500 million to balance the operating budget of 7.4 billion reals ($1.85 billion).

“I’ve been around since Los Angeles in 1984 and we haven’t been in such a situation where a country that is staging the games is in such a vulnerable situation,” Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Brazil was booming when it was awarded the games in 2009. Now it’s buffeted by the worst recession since the 1930s. The currency has plunged almost 50 percent against the dollar, and inflation is over 10 percent and rising. In addition, President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment, partly driven by a billion-dollar bribery scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras.

“We haven’t had to face anything like this,” Smith said. “It was a bold move to go to an emerging country. The IOC deciding to go to South America was a really important, strategic issue — but with all the associated risks.”

Hit by cash-flow problems, Rio is reducing the use of unpaid volunteers. Transportation is being rejigged. Few competition results will be available on paper, and Olympic sponsor Panasonic has stepped in to give unprecedented financial help to run the opening and closing ceremonies.

Organizers backed away from plans to have athletes pay for air conditioning in their rooms, but rooms in the Olympic Village won’t have televisions.

The International Olympic Committee is trying to find a positive angle, talking up austerity after the overall $51 billion figure associated with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics scared away many potential bid cities.

“We are looking into each and every budget item,” Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games Executive Director, told the AP this week in Rio. “I think this is setting a new benchmark. The result is heading in the right direction. They (organizers) have found efficiencies, and I wouldn’t call it cuts.”

Like many, Dubi believes Rio’s natural beauty will make up for everything else.

“No one is saying that the Olympic experience will be affected. On the contrary, Rio will be magic,” Dubi said.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes is almost bragging about the cutbacks as Brazil spends about $10 billion in public and private money to organize the games. Paes is seen as a possible 2018 presidential candidate who hopes to get traction from the Olympics.

“Come on, we are not China, we are not England,” he said this week at the handover of the Olympic basketball arena. “We are not a rich country. So, every time I can cut some of the budget for Olympics — we will do it. This is not going to be the Olympics of wasting money.”

Alan Tomlinson, who studies the Olympics at the University of Brighton in England, said the IOC was altering the script “to make pragmatism sound like idealism.”

“That kind of message is for the global public,” Tomlinson said in an email. “The promised benefits to the local communities — and the public of the host city and nation — are beyond the reach of the IOC.”

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