Ready, Or Mostly Not – The Rio Olympic Games Are Here

Reporting from Rio 2016 Olympic Park, Rio de Janeiro – This isn’t going to be one of those #RioProblems columns, well, mostly not.

Rio 2016 volunteers take a last opportunity to pose with the Olympic Rings the evening before crowds descend on Olympic Park (GamesBids Photo)

Rio 2016 volunteers take a last opportunity to pose with the Olympic Rings the evening before crowds descend on Olympic Park (GamesBids Photo)

The 2016 Games were awarded to Rio almost seven years ago on a warm autumn evening in Copenhagen, Denmark.  The very next day, then bid Chief Carlos Nuzman told a press conference that work on the Games had even then already begun.

Now on the eve of the Games, the work continues.  Literally.

During a quick tour through the Rio Olympic Park at sundown Thursday evening I could see that the workforce were scurrying around.  Of course, that’s no surprise when showtime is tomorrow.

Federal Policemen stand watch at Rio 2016 Olympic Park, one snaps a souvenir shot (GamesBids Photo)

Federal Policemen stand watch at Rio 2016 Olympic Park, one snaps a souvenir shot (GamesBids Photo)

Rows of uniformed police were training to handle the scores of spectators that will pass through security scans starting Friday.  Taking turns, they each “handled” a mock spectator – this went on even as the sun disappeared behind the horizon.

Food service personnel were present and working in the restaurant area, even though the refreshment stands were not yet open for business.  Hammering and drilling could be heard out of view, perhaps workers preparing facilities inside the buildings.  But it wasn’t all that bad.

Volunteers were strolling around the park too, taking pictures in front of the iconic Olympic rings and soon-to-be iconic venues such as the Aquatics Stadium and the Velodrome.  The Olympic Megastore was stocked and ready to serve all of your clothing and stuffed mascot needs.  Helicopters could be heard chopping overhead, making their regular security passes, and armed security personnel were omnipresent around the complex.

The point is – it doesn’t matter now.  The athletes are now settled into the their village with sections and floors of each building decorated with team colors.  Press and broadcast media are here too with the Main Press Centre bustling and news stories already being filed around the world.  Spectators are clutching their tickets and television audiences have scheduled their viewing parties.

The sport will happen, that’s what matters now.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach seems more than ready to transition into Games time, he said Thursday, “finally the athletes and sport are taking over and these athletes will be welcomed by the enthusiastic Brazilian public.”

But at the same time he recognized that it hasn’t been an easy path to this point.

From inside Rio 2016 media bus as it easily cruised along the Olympic lane, much to the chagrin of other gridlocked vehicles (GamesBids Photo)

From inside Rio 2016 media bus as it easily cruised along the Olympic lane, much to the chagrin of other gridlocked vehicles (GamesBids Photo)

“We also had to address some last minute challenges as it is normal just before such an Olympic Games, but the cooperation with the organizing committee and with the city is going very, very well.

“We are very confident that these issues will be addressed and that we will have a very great Olympic Games.”

Indeed, the experience up until now has been inconsistent and it wouldn’t be wrong to be a little nervous about what is to come the next two weeks.

Some using official Olympic transportation have experienced gridlocked traffic trying to venture from venue-to-venue, still others have enjoyed comfortable passage while using the Olympic-only lanes.   During a drive from the airport to the Media Village, my shuttle bus cruised through the reserved lanes while other traffic was snarled.  At one point where lanes merged causing a bottleneck, a group of police on motorcycles quickly appeared to direct the the shuttle through fast and efficiently.

When the shuttle approached a military truck with armed personnel sitting in the back (a common sight in Rio right now), the truck politely merged with traffic in a regular lane, letting the shuttle pass.

And about the military; security forces seem to be sufficiently patrolling key areas of the city – especially around crowds and transport links.  Though I couldn’t help notice one armed federal policeman taking pictures of the velodrome while on duty.

But receiving the most #RioProblems tweets (I said it would come up) are accommodation problems in the Athletes and Media Villages.  Water on the floor, no water, no hot water, exploding toilets, collapsing vanities, no power, no Internet, no furniture, doors that trap you in your rooms – didn’t hear that last one?  It was mine.

After closing the bedroom door behind me in my apartment, the latch stuck shut and would not open again.  Not sure who to contact, I instead sent distress calls to Facebook friends in Rio until one was able to get a crew to break the door open and set me free three hours later.  I have to say, however, that the “rescue team” were professional and effective, and very friendly.

A member of the support staff who helped organize my rescue said “this is not Rio”, referring to the lack of preparedness in the village.  “This is the Olympics.  Everything was completed just one month ago,” pointing to the bathroom, the kitchen and other features.

It was clear from seeing the rough-looking finishes throughout the new complex that the job was rushed to meet the Olympic schedule time-box.  But the athletes, thank goodness, do not compete in their rooms.

Seven years is a long time.  Dramatic changes in Brazil shifted priorities and the nation, the city and the Cariocas who live within it did what they could do.  Meanwhile, the Games begin tomorrow, and they will go on.

So what now?  Was the buildup to the Rio Games a problem?  Should awarding Games to developing nations be avoided at all costs in the future or are the big challenges just a natural and acceptable part of the imperfect process of organizing the biggest event in the word?

Bach commented through both sides of his mouth on these questions Thursday.

The velodrome (left) and other Rio 2016 Olympic Park venues seem ready for spectators Saturday. They're under the watch of a security helicopter above (GamesBids Photo)

The velodrome (left) and other Rio 2016 Olympic Park venues seem ready for spectators Saturday. They’re under the watch of a security helicopter above (GamesBids Photo)

Bach said “the financial model of the Olympic Games, if this model stands such a stress test like it has taken here in Brazil, then you can see that this model is more than robust because you know this crisis … is the worst crisis maybe in the history of Brazil.”

“It is a state crisis, it is an economic crisis, it is a social crisis – there were health challenges, there were environmental challenges, wherever you look there were huge, huge challenges.  And nevertheless you see that this country, this city, this organizing committee has managed to transform a city and to put the Olympic Games on the stage.  The IOC was always in solidarity, these weren’t always easy times, and it is not easy times now as we speak.”

Seemingly he believes that the model that the IOC has created to organize the Olympic Games is effectively designed to withstand uncertainty – and that should support greater flexibility in choosing host cities in the future.

However, his conclusion to this comment was far more daunting.

He said “therefore, I think you can say very clearly that the financial model of the Olympic Games has really stood the stress test that hopefully we won’t have to stand again in the future.”

Bach’s subtle hint that maybe more cautious host city choices should be made in the future.

But what’s done is done, let’s get on with the Games.

Robert Livingstone

About Robert Livingstone

Robert Livingstone is a senior editor, award-winning journalist and author, covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. He is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians. Follow him @enotsgnivil