RIO DE JANEIRO — IOC inspectors have seen "strong, solid progress" but think organizers need a sharper focus in the countdown to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The IOC coordination commission, headed by former Olympic hurdles champion Nawal El Moutawakel, finished a two-day inspection visit on Monday (Tuesday, Manila time) and seemed to take a stronger tone than on its previous four visits.
El Moutawakel said she was confident the games would provide a lasting legacy, but warned about delays in starting construction on one of the four main venue areas — the Deodoro area in a run-down part of northern Rio de Janeiro.
"A lot of work has been done, but a large amount still remains across the entire project and some timelines remain very, very tight," she said. "Rio must therefore continue to focus on its priorities such as meeting the matrix of responsibility and delivering the venues and associated infrastructure."
El Moutawakel and IOC executive director Gilbert Felli responded to questions about the possibility of protests at the games.
Protests took place almost every day at the recent Confederations Cup — a warm-up for next year's soccer World Cup in Brazil. Demonstrators took to the streets with complaints about spending billions on mega-events such as the Olympics and World Cup in a country with poor public services and large economic inequality.
Brazil is spending about US$13.3 billion of largely public money on the World Cup. Olympic organizers are expected to announce their budgets in a few months, but public spending could be similar to that of the World Cup — or higher.
"We are for peaceful demonstrations, but we'd like also to protect our athletes," El Moutawakel said. "We'd like to make sure that the Olympic games are run in peaceful way. ... But we also don't want to have the Olympic Games used as scapegoats. The games are a peaceful event. The games are for the athletes to gather together and compete in friendship."
Felli, who like El Moutawakel speaks English as a second language, sought to clarify his colleague.
"I'm not saying we are in favor of demonstrations, but we are in a democracy where people want to demonstrate. ... But we are not saying you must all go in the streets and demonstrate every day."
Felli said the IOC had "experts" from Australia and Britain working with Brazilian authorities on crowd-control and policing measures, which were criticized as heavy-handed during the Confederations Cup. Police routinely used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds, including crowds outside the tournament final between Spain and Brazil at Rio's Maracana stadium.
"Probably the fact they are not so used to (crowd control) because there were not so many protests before in Brazil," Felli said.
Felli said some sports federations and national Olympics committees were concerned that late delivery of venues would jeopardize test events.
And he also acknowledged that selling local sponsorships for the games has slowed and threatens to leave a shortfall of as much as US$700 million in the local operating budget, which will have to be made up by the government.
He said this was fallout from a slowing economy with the government withdrawing generous support and private investors being more cautious.
"Now they have difficulties," he said. "Probably it's this new economy."