SPORTS

Rio's Olympic Park venues 'a mess,' may even be unsafe experts warn

The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro start in less than 40 days, but going to Barra da Tijuca west of the city, where the Olympic Park is – the site where competitions in 16 sports will take place – is chaotic at best.

The subway line linking Barra to Ipanema and the city’s tourist zone isn’t finished yet, and may not be without an infusion of federal emergency funds.

Many of the infrastructure projects that were promised for the Games, such as special bus lanes, aren’t ready either, and the construction sites to build them make the already complicated traffic in the region even more snarled.

And that’s just getting there.

The city says the sports venues are 98 percent complete, but those who have seen them are not convinced: for one, volleyball player Sheila Tavares de Castro.

"It's a mess,” said Sheila, who in the way of most Brazilian athletes is known universally by her first name. 

“[It] still has a lot of work that seems to need to be done, and we are just missing a few days until the Games," she complained to Fox News Latino. "I wonder what the Japanese think, since they actually are ready for 2020." 

She noted that she recently competed in a Grand Prix Volleyball event in the city that was held at a facility that will serve other sports besides volleyball during the Olympics. That’s because the Maracanazinho, next to the iconic Maracanã soccer stadium, is the official venue for volleyball at the Games, but is closed for maintenance work.

Fox News Latino team visited the Olympic Park on an official tour of the facilities and noticed that, although the buildings themselves seem close to ready, the general aspect and surroundings still need a lot of work.

Some venues, like the velodrome for cycling (89 percent constructed) and the tennis center (93 percent), still have significant amounts of construction left.

The Rio 2016 Committee is minimizing the significance of the delays, saying they've been caused by "specific problems that occur in any work, anywhere in the world."

The Olympic Park, the Transolympic bus lane, the subway expansion – they all will be ready before the Games, officials say.

Last week, the media got a sneak peak at the athletes' village, the brand new complex of residential towers where nearly 11,000 athletes and some 6,000 coaches and other handlers will sleep, eat and train during the Games.

Surrounded by a double fence and overlooking a favela, the complex includes 31 17-story residential towers, a massive cafeteria and gym, a post office, a first aid center and bank.

According to the Associated Press, Mario Cilenti, the facility's director, told reporters the accommodations were a mix functionality and austerity — now a guiding principle as Brazil is immersed in its most severe economic recession in decades.

Cilenti said, "There are no frills, just the basic necessities."

"Our main challenge now is to think about how it will work, and how to optimize mobility operations in the city,” Roberto Ainbinder, project director of the Municipal Olympic Company, which is overseeing the city's construction projects, told FNL. “The buildings are ready or will be ready, for sure. So will be the transportation system, which completely changes the face of the town. And we've managed to spend less than all the other Olympic host cities – leaving the biggest legacy possible to the city."

The legacy of the Olympics is much on the minds of many cariocas – as Rio residents are called – given that a number of the soccer stadiums constructed or renovated in the country for the 2014 World Cup remain largely unused in remote cities like Manaus and Cuiaba.

Pedro Celestino, of the Rio’s Engineering Club, echoed the organizers about the buildings, but is critical of the way they carried out the works, by cutting corners and disrespecting protocols, he told FNL, "established worldwide."

Speeding up the pace of construction, he said, was their goal. "So it will be ready, but the quality of the work may be compromised. In many projects the company responsible for the design was also responsible for the construction and also supervision – when there should be three different companies, each performing one of those roles.”

Celestino concluded, “Yes, there may be incidents, since an important protocol was ignored. But they will be ready."

The emblematic case is the Tim Maia bike path alongside Niemeyer Avenue, which is not an official Olympic project but is being carried out by one of the firms that carried out work for the Games. Two people died when a part of the elevated lane simply collapsed.

"The company that built it was the same one that inspected it,” Celestino pointed out. “How can we trust this process?"

There is also precious little margin for error, since the budget of the city has already been stretched to its limit, and the state of Rio de Janeiro – which is footing the bill for security during the Games – recently declared an emergency in an attempt to get the federal government to issue funds that would allow the state to honor its commitments.

Cutbacks in the state’s police force have resulted in a dramatic increase in violent crime in the city, with a 39 percent spike in homicides over 2015 with more robberies and rapes as well. The Armed Forces have committed some 15,000 soldiers to guarantee the safety during the Games.

Meanwhile Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, guarantees that the Olympics won’t be affected by the economic crisis or marred by crime, but for many cariocas, anxiety continues to grow.

Biologist Juliana Almeida, for one, isn’t very optimistic. “I’m hoping that theses Games will actually be relevant to us after the competition,” she said, “and not like the World Cup with all those stadiums that became white elephants.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.