Olympics: 500 days and counting, Rio races to be ready25 march 2015, 13:26
In Tuesday marking 500 days to go before it stages South America's first ever Olympic Games, Rio is straining at the leash to be ready -- but a key target of dealing with pollution in the bay hosting sailing events is floating out of reach, AFP reports.
In having to overhaul crumbling infrastructure, polluted waters and protests notably over the choice of a nature reserve to host the return of golf to the Games, organizers could almost be forgiven for seeing the undertaking as one mammoth discipline -- a giant obstacle course.
Last April, International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice-President John Coates slammed preparations as the "worst ever" and warned "the situation is critical on the ground" following several inspection visits.
Organizers responded by creating a taskforce to monitor progress and IOC President Thomas Bach insisted he was "very satisfied" following last month's three-day meeting of the IOC's executive committee in Rio.
Although city mayor Eduardo Paes made combative comments Tuesday praising the city's efforts to get ready, he admitted to concern over the Games' environmental impact.
Green campaigners and athletes alike have slammed yachting site Guanabara Bay, picturesque but a smelly dumping ground for refuse amid an ongoing struggle to clean up waters which biologists say also risk contamination from superbacteria in adjoining rivers which are resistant to antibiotics.
State authorities admit Rio will struggle to meet its pledge to treat 80 percent of the raw sewage which floats into the bay, offering a stark contrast to the postcard image organizers offered up to mark 500 days in depicting Olympic mascot Vinicius perched atop the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car.
Paes himself admitted dissatisfaction over the bay clean-up, originally supposed to be total, then reduced to clearing 80 percent of raw sewage, that now appearing more wishful thinking than a target with only around 49 percent reached to date.
"As a Rio resident I think it is a shame Guanabara Bay has not been totally cleaned up. I think it is a missed opportunity," Paes told SporTV Monday, while insisting competitor health would not be at risk with the Games being held in the cleanest part of the bay.
Organizers earlier told AFP that "cleaning up the bay is an important legacy objective."
Local organizing commitee head Carlos Nuzman insisted Rio would emerge more transformed than even 1964 hosts Tokyo and 1992 hosts Barcelona.
"I am not nervous -- I feel the adrenaline of an athlete taking part in a final," said Nuzman, who played down the pollution concerns by citing water quality concerns in 2000 in Sydney and Beijing in 2008.
The siting of the Olympic golf course in an ecological reserve has also enraged green campaigners, furious at the potential effect on wildlife.
Paes, who was to visit the course Wednesday, insisted the operation to build the course involved recovering a "totally degraded" area.
"Everybody knows Rio has many problems and won't be perfect in 2016 -- but it will be much better," said Paes, who insisted the 37 billion reais ($11.8 billion) bill has been carefully costed with around half private cash.
The Games are being spread across four districts of the sprawling city, underscoring the need for better public transport, but the head of Rio's Municipal Olympic Company event planning body, Joaquim Monteiro de Carvalho, said he was confident Brazilians would have a "Games to be proud of" and that "all the works are on schedule."
A total of 7.5 million Games tickets will go on sale on the official website www.rio2016.com from March 31 with prices ranging from 40 reais ($13) to 1,200 ($383) with distribution in a series of lotteries from July.
Organizers meanwhile published the outline comppetition schedule showing Sao Paulo's Corinthians Arena as one of seven football venues in six cities, including Manaus in Amazonia -- despite a lingering dispute on who coughs up -- club or state authorities -- on "overlay" costs of preparing the Arena stadium.