Image: Kitty Chiller (2nd R), Chef de Mission for Australia at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, leads a news conference with boxers (L-R) James Whateley, Daniel Lewis, and Shelley Watts, in which she described the problems that her country’s delegation encountered with the athletes’ housing in Rio de Janeiro, July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Rickey Rogers
By Daniel Flynn
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Australia’s Olympic delegation in Rio de Janeiro said on Monday organizers had made “fantastic” progress in fixing problems with unfinished housing at the athletes’ village, after complaints from several countries about shoddy electricity and plumbing.
Just under two weeks before the games begin on Aug. 5, Australia’s delegation had said on Sunday it would not move into the Olympic Village because it was “not safe or ready”, citing deficiencies like “blocked toilets, leaking pipes and exposed wiring.”
The litany of grievances from Australia, which moved members of its delegation into nearby hotels, revived concern over Brazil’s readiness to host a major sporting event in the midst of its worst recession in decades and a deep political crisis.
New Zealand and Italy’s delegations both said they had been forced to fix problems with electricity and plumbing, while Argentina said on Monday it had reserved accommodation outside the Village for part of its delegation.
However, the head of the Australian Olympic team, Kitty Chiller, thanked organisers on Monday for responding promptly to her concerns by deploying hundreds of maintenance people and cleaners.
“There was fantastic progress made today,” Chiller told a news conference in the Olympic media centre. “It’s looking like, according to our plan, we will be able to move everybody in on Wednesday.”
The newly-built village will host more than 18,000 athletes, officials, staff and volunteers over the Aug. 5-21 Olympics and the Sept. 7-18 Paralympics, the first Games to be held in South America.
Chiller said that her team had identified some 200 problems with the accommodation at the weekend – including water running down the walls, dirty floors and a strong smell of gas – but the list was now down to single figures.
Australia, which finished eighth in the medals table in London four years ago, is to bring 410 athletes for the games. It received three of its floors in the athletes accommodation on Monday and it expects to receive the rest of the 15 floors by Wednesday, Chiller said.
Australian Shelley Watts, competing in the 60-kg female boxing category, said she had been impressed by the official accommodation when she arrived on Monday.
“It looks absolutely amazing. I haven’t had to concern myself with any of the leakages of the water or anything but walking in there I just couldn’t wipe the smile off my face,” she said. “What Rio has done to be able to create this facility is amazing.”
MEMORIES OF WORLD CUP
As many as 500,000 visitors are expected to travel to Brazil for the Games, many of them from the United States. Worries about security, the Zika virus and Brazil’s economic crisis might discourage some travelers and VIP guests and around 28 percent of Olympic tickets have yet to be sold.
The problems at the Village are not unlike those before other big spectacles in Brazil, like the 2014 World Cup, for which stadium crews were still wielding paintbrushes and screwdrivers even minutes before kickoff.
The new subway line, which will connect the popular seaside neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema to the Olympic facilities in Barra de Tijuca, has suffered repeated delays and is still undergoing tests despite a scheduled inauguration next Saturday.
Chiller said that a group of around 10 national Olympic committees – including Great Britain, New Zealand, Japan and Germany – had worked together to alert the local organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to problems at the village.
Rio’s outspoken Mayor Eduardo Paes pledged to fix the problems but had appeared to make light of the Australians’ complaints by saying he would place a kangaroo in front of their accommodation to make them feel at home.
“The mayor and I have a date on Wednesday and I believe there will be a ceremonial handing over of the keys. I have arranged a little present for the mayor as well,” Chiller said. “I still say that it will be the best village that I have ever been in once these issues are complete.”
Chiller said the Australian team had paid the cost of putting its members in hotels and some initial cleaning costs to make its accommodation habitable. “We’ll work out who pays the bill later on,” she added.
(Editing by Mary Milliken)
Copyright 2016 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.