2016 Olympics: Is Rio Prepared?

Experts discuss the key hurdles Brazil faces ahead of the Olympics and World Cup.


Inter-American Dialogue 


At the closing ceremony of the London Games August 12, the Olympic flag was officially passed to Rio de Janeiro, beginning the four-year countdown to the first Olympic Games to be held in South America. Brazilian organizers have said they have learned valuable lessons from London and are on track for the 2016 Games. What are the biggest challenges that Brazil faces in preparing for the next Olympics, as well as the 2014 FIFA World Cup? Will the country's transportation systems and other infrastructure be capable of handling the mega-events? How well will the country deal with security, corruption and other issues?  


Alberto Murray Neto, partner at Paulo Roberto Murray-Advogados: The biggest challenge that Brazil faces is organizing an Olympic Games that will fit into the initial estimated budget and leave a valuable legacy to the Brazilian people, particularly the citizens of Rio de Janeiro. The Pan American Games cost 1000 percent more than initially presented. And there was no legacy for Cariocas. The World Cup has an even bigger challenge, as some of the stadiums that are being built will surely be useless after the tournament. The government is constructing major stadiums in cities that do not have basic sanitation systems for the entire population. This is outrageous. Transportation is a key issue in Brazil, not only because of the mega-events, but for the country's own needs. However, construction is far behind schedule and there may not be enough time to do all that is needed. Authorities will not do in four years what they have not done in 400. A rapid train linking São Paulo and Rio will not happen. Traffic jams in the cities are terrible. Our airports are packed. My hope is that, at least for the Olympics, Rio will provide some alternative transportation means to bring people from the center of the city to Barra da Tijuca, where most of the events will take place. Rio is undertaking projects to enhance its transportation system and I hope they have time to do it all. Another key issue is cleaning the polluted Guanabara Bay, where the sailing will take place. Security, I believe, will not be a major problem because the Brazilian army will go to the streets in a coordinated action with the federal and state police. Rio has shown good security organization when hosting major events. Corruption is very difficult to control and stop. Non-governmental organizations must control expenses by keeping a very close watch and figures must be totally transparent.


Andrés Rozental, member of the Advisor board, president of Rozental & Asociados in Mexico City and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution: After what has been universally characterized as a tremendous success by London in organizing the Olympics, Rio de Janero and Brazil will have a tough act to follow. While London is generally a disciplined and orderly city, Rio, like many other large urban concentrations in developing countries, is somewhat chaotic and disorganized. The biggest challenge the Brazilians face is to somehow make logistics work during both the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. A large hotel deficit in Rio, combined with poor public transportation networks and phenomenal traffic congestion-especially in São Paulo-will present huge challenges to the authorities as they prepare for the influx of tens of thousands of athletes and spectators. While there is still time to build the necessary new infrastructure, Brazil needs to accelerate preparations and ensure that the airports, roads, transportation facilities and stadiums are ready. Neither FIFA nor the International Olympic Committee seem to be worried that things are not on schedule, but the risk remains that some of the major projects might not be in place by 2014. Security is also a concern, but more from the perspective of localized crime and violence, than from any terrorist threat. The mayor of Rio de Janeiro was in London twice during these past Olympics and was able to take advantage of watching the recently concluded Games to better understand the size and complexity of the events and how to adequately prepare for every contingency. Having attended several of the events in London myself, I can't underestimate the task ahead and Brazil's challenges in preparing for their time in the sun."


Thomas Rideg, managing director of Global Intelligence Alliance: One challenge is what payback Brazilians will receive from their investments. The Olympics present an easier argument as Rio will double its hotel capacity, have new state-of-the-art parks and sport centers and the utilization of the city's public transportation will increase from 18 percent to 63 percent of the population. This is less arguable regarding investments in stadiums in other cities, such as Natal, which are required for the World Cup. Another challenge has to do with the governing environment. Dealing with a federal government, 12 states and cities in preparation for the World Cup involves more bureaucracy than dealing with the federal government, one state and one city for the Olympics. The biggest challenge facing both events is the constant suspicion of corruption in the bidding process and construction rollouts. Even though construction is underway, FIFA has more to worry about than does the International Olympic Committee. Most stadium improvements have begun but none are within the scheduled timeframe. Transportation, infrastructure and safety developments are harder to measure and some are ahead of others. On the other hand, Rio's Olympic organizing committee stated this week that 47 percent of the projects are ready (though critics say this figure is bloated). Two critical steps that remain to be tackled are transportation and safety. Some credible measures have been taken, such as the development of a Pacifying Police Unit, but these are very big issues. Brazil has taken a wise step by seeking a partnership with Britain. The British would cooperate with planning for both events, leveraging the successful experience of the London Olympics. Of Brazil's 30 billion real budget, 22.5 billion reais in investments have been announced. Critics say this doesn't cover everything promised, such as rebuilding Maracanã Stadium, the international airport, communications, safety and other related investments which will likely push the figure to twice the proposed budget. Having seen Brazil's trajectory at hosting events, albeit smaller ones, I remain confident that both events will be a success, but the steps to get there will be bumpy.

Otávio Nese, president of the Project Management Institute's Brazil Chapter: From the delivery of the official flag to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has four years to plan, execute and deliver a city that is ready for the 2016 Olympics. If we compare it with the World Cup, which is rather more worrying, the challenges are fewer because it is a mega-event in just one city, but they are no less relevant. The major problem for both events is adequate planning. All programs and projects that involve the government suffer excessive bureaucracy. This means they face excessively long waiting periods for approval, and as a result cannot reflect the scope and budget originally approved. Another important factor in an already tight deadline, especially for the World Cup, is the municipal elections. They are causing a standstill for various projects until next year as a result of the parties' political concerns and strategies. This lost time can be costly, invariably at the expense of additional contracts. It is good to remember the need for professionals in all areas, especially in the form of communication with the thousands of tourists and fans. This is a major factor in the reflection of the image and hospitality of Brazil abroad. Finally, it is expected that the private sector projects, which include the World Cup stadiums and facilities for the Olympics, will be ready on time. But considering the other infrastructure projects and support projects that are the public sector's responsibility, such as urban mobility and public safety, the situation is still worrisome, since the planning is slow and tenuous.

Republished with permission from the Inter-American Dialogue's daily Latin America Advisor newsletter