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Olympics: After World Cup success, concern at Rio Games

Brazil defied dire predictions to deliver one of the best World Cups in history, but with two years until the Rio Olympics, organisers are racing against the clock all over again.

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil defied dire predictions to deliver one of the best World Cups in history, but with two years until the Rio Olympics, organisers are racing against the clock all over again.

Sewage in the bay hosting sailing competitions and slow work at other sites have raised concerns about Rio 2016, the first Olympics in South America, in a repeat of the delays that had workers scrambling to polish off stadiums only days before the World Cup began last month.

A major worry surrounds much-delayed progress at the Olympic Park in the northern Deodoro district, which will host a slew of events. Work was originally to start last year but the site was only inaugurated on July 3, well behind schedule.

Three existing installations there, dating from the 2007 Pan American Games, are being renovated: centres for shooting, equestrian events, and another for modern pentathlon.

Four more sites are being built, a mix of permanent and temporary structures.

In April, IOC vice-president John Coates said preparations were "the worst ever" -- though he backtracked two days later.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, who has admitted to concerns over the Deodoro timetable, said last week that the World Cup success would ease concerns about preparations for the August 5-21, 2016 Games.

"We still have lots of work ahead of us, but we are confident that we will deliver things on time," Paes said, adding that Deodoro was 60 per cent ready.

"You will have to see, but it will be the Olympics of the Olympics," he insisted, although Deodoro delivery for the first quarter of 2016 gives the hosts little room for manoeuvre.

After talks on Friday with President Dilma Rousseff, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said he was "pleased to hear the confidence" she has in the Games and that the event "will be a top priority."

- No flexibility -

Barra da Tijuca, the main Olympic site hosting 15 disciplines including gymnastics, aquatics, combat sports and tennis, is also behind schedule.

Strikes have been a factor behind the delays and construction of the velodrome has barely got under way, an AFP reporter at the scene found.

Next to it are two venues inaugurated in 2007 -- the HSBC Arena, staging gymnastics and trampoline, and the Maria Lenk aquatic park.

Nearby, the golf course is just being laid but is far from being finished -- erection of the stands has yet to start at a venue now due for delivery in mid-2015.

General Fernando Azevedo e Silva, appointed by Rousseff to head the public Olympic Authority coordinating the works, said he was "very optimistic."

"There are no confirmed delays -- though there is not much flexibility, in particular for Deodoro," he told AFP. "The main thing is to recoup the delay at Deodoro."

The Maracana Stadium is already complete thanks to its pre-World Cup overhaul, but the Joao Havelange Olympic stadium has been undergoing renovations for more than a year owing to wind resistance problems with the roof.

Rio's vast Guanabara Bay, beautiful on postcards, is polluted with thousands of liters of untreated sewage tipped into it each day, and there is no sign as yet of a promised clean-up.

- Olympic village -

A total of 27 projects are due to be undertaken to bolster Rio's infrastructure and improve urban mobility and the environment. They include a revamping of the port area and a new metro line along with rapid transit buses.

Work also started last November on a 23-kilometre (15-mile) tunnel linking the city centre with the western Barra district hosting the Olympic village.

There, the 31 village buildings are 40 per cent ready and more than 5,000 construction personnel are now working on the site.

"In all, more than 3,604 apartments will host 18,000 people in 10,000 rooms during the Games," says Maurizio Cruz Lopez, director general of the Ilha Pura building programme of constructors Carvalho Hosken and Odebrecht in a public-private initiative.

The high-quality flats will be marketed to private buyers after the Games with the largest expected to fetch around $1 million.

The Games' price tag will be at least 36 billion reais ($12 billion) but city authorities say the private sector or at least public-private partnerships will stump up more than half.

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