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Rio Olympic Village opening characterised by clogged toilets

The Olympic Games - the first to be held in South America - are to open on August 5.?The lack of preparedness in the Olympic Village was an embarrassing blow for host Brazil. Photograph: (Getty)

AFP Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Jul 25, 2016, 03.57 AM (IST)
The official opening of the Olympic Village in Rio turned into a fiasco on Sunday with the discovery of blocked toilets and leaky pipes, prompting Australia to call the facility "not safe or ready".

Even Brazilian athletes who were meant to have started taking up lodgings in the brand-new complex from Sunday were being kept in hotels instead. Britain's delegation said it, too, had encountered some "maintenance difficulties", but added it was staying in the Village as planned.

Rio's Olympic organisers said such teething problems plagued all Olympic Games. They promised that "adjustments" were being made to resolve the problems.

The Olympic Games, the first to be held in South America, are to open on August 5, less than two weeks away. The lack of preparedness in the Olympic Village was another embarrassing blow for host Brazil, which is struggling to show all will be well with the Olympiad.

It is already facing low ticket sales, general public apathy amid a deep recession, fears over the Zika virus, and a spike in street crime as police complain of lack of resources.

Australia's delegation highlighted the poor state of the Village, 31-building complex located in the Barra da Tijuca district in the west of Rio de Janeiro designed to house more than 18,000 athletes and coaching staff over the coming weeks.

"Problems include blocked toilets, leaking pipes, exposed wiring, darkened stairwells where no lighting has been installed, and dirty floors in need of a massive clean," the head of the Australian team, Kitty Chiller, said in a statement.

During a test involving taps and toilets being turned on in apartments on several floors, "water came down walls, there was a strong smell of gas in some apartments and there was 'shorting' in the electrical wiring".

Chiller later told reporters: "This is my fifth Olympics Games, I have never experienced a Village in this lack of state of readiness at this point in time." She added that, "in our mind, our building is not habitable", and the Australian team would stay in nearby hotels.

But she said a team of plumbers was already at work to fix the problems, and "I am reasonably confident that we will be able to enter the Village on Wednesday". The rest of the Village, she said, "is one of the best" she had seen. A spokesman for the British delegation confirmed similar problems but noted "this is not uncommon with new-build structures of this type".

Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, tried to laugh off the matter, according to Brazilian media reports. "We are going to make the Australians feel at home here. I'm almost putting a kangaroo out front to jump for them," he said. He also boasted that the Village was "more beautiful and better" than the one in Sydney in the 2000 Olympics.

New Zealand Olympic committee chef de mission Rob Waddell said the village was not completely ready when he arrived last week, but the issues had been resolved, and Kiwi athletes were beginning to move into their allotted accommodation.

"We were disappointed the village wasn't as ready as it might have been when we arrived, and it hasn't been easy. Our team has had to get stuck in to get the job done," he said in a statement.


Russia to participate

As dire as the Australian description of the Village sounded, one of the 207 delegations was relieved on Sunday to find out its athletes would be able to make it to Rio at all.

Russia, whose participation had been uncertain following revelations of state-run doping, hailed a decision by the International Olympic Committee to not impose a blanket ban on all its sportsmen and women. The IOC ordered individual sports federations to decide whether Russian competitors should take part in the Rio Games.


Boosted security

Security, naturally, will be high around the complex, and around Rio generally. The arrest on Thursday of 10 Brazilians suspected of planning attacks during the Olympics revived memories of the Munich Games in 1972, when an armed Palestinian group took Israeli athletes hostage and killed 11 of them.

Brazilian justice minister Alexandre de Moraes said the suspects were "absolutely amateur", "disorganised" and had no specific targets.

But recent attacks, such as the one on July 14 in Nice, France that killed 84 people, have prompted officials to bolster their security plans, notably by reinforcing checks and screenings.

From Sunday, some 50,000 police and soldiers are being deployed in Rio to protect sports venues, tourist spots and key transport areas.

(AFP)
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