Rio’s Olympics Woes Sour IOC on Developing World as Games Site

Matthew Futterman and Will Connors, Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2016

Several prominent members of the International Olympic Committee said the difficulty getting Rio de Janeiro ready for the Summer Games likely means the organization will shy away from again holding the world’s biggest sporting event in cities that exhibit any signs of instability.

The comments, among the strongest yet by IOC officials about their frustration with Rio’s preparations, show the organization backing away from a previous goal of opening up the Games to a broader selection of cities.

Rio, the first South American city to host the event, was supposed to mark the dawn of a new, more adventurous era for the IOC. It is instead shaping up as a cautionary tale about how volatile conditions can be in developing countries. Ambitions to hold the Olympics in Africa or India appear shelved indefinitely, according to IOC members and people who work closely with the organization.

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Construction of the Olympic park lagged. The village for the athletes has barely been completed, with some athletes showing up to find exposed wiring, nonworking plumbing and darkened stairwells.

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Rio abandoned its promise to clean up Guanabara Bay, site of Olympic sailing. “The bay is the biggest shortcoming,” said Michael Payne, a former IOC marketing director and onetime adviser to the Rio bid.

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In 2009 when the IOC picked Rio, Brazil’s economy was projected to become one of the five biggest economies in the world by now. It has instead fallen into its worst recession in decades, and the government is embroiled in a pervasive and distracting political scandal.

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For 2024, Paris and Los Angeles now are cited as favorites over Rome and Budapest. South Africa, once a leading contender for those Summer Games, pulled out in 2015 as it battled some of the same problems facing Rio, such as an inability to provide much of its population with adequate education and health care.

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As cost overruns mounted, local organizers scrambled to cut expenses on everything from venue seating to the types of food served in VIP areas. Ticket sales have lagged, raising the specter of video of half-empty stadiums being beamed around the world.

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