By George Georgakopoulos and Spyridoula Spanea
The head of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, acknowledges there’s no time to lose in preparing for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and responds to the criticism leveled against the first South American Olympic host saying that everything will be done on schedule and within budget. He concedes, however, that it was only last September – less than three years before the Games – that the master plan for the venues was finalized.
“We know we don’t have time to lose and we are not standing still,” Nuzman, also the head of the Brazilian Olympic Committee and a member of the International Olympic Committee, tells Kathimerini in a rare interview. In response to complaints from the International Olympic Committee regarding project delays, he poignantly says that “working as a team is the best and only way to make this progress,” and singles out constructive criticism, saying that it “helps us improve.”
He also speaks of the role of the soccer World Cup, the bidding effort he led to bring the Games to Brazil, the temporary structures and the legacy of the Rio Games, as well as the target for the Brazilian Olympic team in 2016, while admitting that clearing the waters for the test events in sailing will be “a big challenge.”
From your first footsteps in sport you have served it on an amateur level, then professionally, and in the last few decades on the Olympic level. What does leading the hosting effort represent for you personally?
Bringing the Olympic and Paralympic Games to Brazil and South America for the first time is one of the greatest and proudest achievements in my career. Of course I have wonderful memories from competing as an athlete in the 1964 Tokyo Games volleyball competition. I will never forget that wonderful experience.
Was bidding for the Olympics your own idea?
Bringing the Games to Brazil was an ambition I had held for a very long time, but bidding for the Games requires a huge team effort and we worked very closely together with the three levels of government and many other partners. Without their support, it would not have been possible.
What were the hardest moments while bidding for the Games?
Bidding to host the Games was a long and tough journey with many hard moments, but the destination made every late working night and every difficult decision absolutely worthwhile.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to gain the IOC’s support?
When the applicant cities were ranked, we were in fifth position. Many people believed that Rio did not have the strongest technical bid in areas such as accommodation and transport, when compared with our rivals from Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo. What we did have was a special, unique story: to bring the Games to South America for the first time. This was a nervous moment but we were very happy to make the short list of candidate cities. The IOC gave us a chance to show what we could do, and we took it.
Since 2009 a different process has started for you. What among your original targets have you already met in preparing for the Games?
We have already achieved a great deal on our journey toward hosting the 2016 Games. The Games are acting as a catalyst to transform the city of Rio and important infrastructure work such as the new Metro Line 4 began within months of winning the bid. In September last year we finalized the venue master plan and the venues in the Barra Olympic Park and Village are now rising. Right now, 38 percent of our permanent venues are operationally ready for action.
Rio has recently received a lot of bad publicity about its preparations for the Games. Why has been so much criticism? Is it well founded?
Constructive criticism helps us improve. We have listened carefully to the recent concerns of the International Federations. Together with our government partners we are already finding solutions to the issues. As we enter a crucial phase of our journey, we know we don’t have time to lose and we are not standing still. Our work continues intensely across the project. We are moving forward, making progress and delivering upon our responsibilities.
Some people have already been forced to back down from their vocal criticism, such as IOC Vice President John Coates. Do you think that all the doubters will be proven wrong when the Games are over?
Our promise to organize a memorable first Games in South America remains. We will deliver Games to be proud of, within the agreed schedules and budgets.
Do you feel you have the full support of IOC?
The IOC is playing an important role in helping us with their expertise and experience. We welcome this. We are achieving progress together, in a spirit of partnership. Working as a team is the best and only way to make this progress.
What are the advantages of Rio compared with previous host cities, and what are its drawbacks?
Bringing the Games to South America for the first time introduces the Olympic and Paralympic movements to a very large and youthful new audience. You can be certain that the Rio 2016 Games will be infused with our famous Brazilian spirit, which will create a great festival atmosphere and produce a Games to remember.
Does the World Cup make your work easier? Could it be pushing the Rio preparations into the spotlight too early?
We are confident the World Cup will be a success – even more so if the Brazilian team wins it. We will learn from the World Cup, although it is a very different event compared to the Games. We will also benefit from some of the stadiums and infrastructure built for the tournament being ready two years in advance of the Games.
How ready will Rio be for the test events starting this summer?
We recognize the importance of testing and are currently working closely together with the International Federations and other stakeholders to produce a comprehensive program of Olympic and Paralympic test events, which will take place in three phases during 2015 and 2016. The first test event will take place in August 2014 when 400 sailors from over 60 countries are expected to participate in the event at Marina da Gloria in front of the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain.
How far have the organizers progressed in pushing for clearing up the waters for the sailing events?
The health and welfare of the athletes is always our top priority and we will ensure that the field of play conditions during the Rio 2016 Games and the official test events will allow the athletes to compete to the best of their abilities. There is no question that cleaning Guanabara Bay is a big challenge. The State Government, which is responsible for this, is implementing 12 actions in its Clean Guanabara program and significant progress has already been achieved.
On a sporting level, what is Brazil expecting from its athletes in the Rio Games?
During 2013 Brazilian athletes achieved very good results in World Championships, giving strong encouragement toward the Brazilian Olympic Team’s ambition of achieving a top-10 finish in the Rio 2016 medal table.
Greece’s role is special in every Games for being the birthplace of the Olympics. What will its special role be in the Rio Games?
In keeping with Olympic tradition, the Rio 2016 torch relay will begin with the lighting of the flame at Olympia. We respect and cherish the historical significance of Greece’s role in the Olympic Movement and it will be a special moment to see the Greek flag flying alongside the Brazilian flag and the Olympic flag during the Opening Ceremony in the Maracana Stadium.
Have you studied the problems and errors that previous Olympic hosts suffered as a result of?
Through the IOC’s excellent knowledge management and observer programs we have benefited from a great deal of information and learning from previous editions of the Games. What we have also learnt is that each edition of the Games is different and faces its own challenges and opportunities. Rio will be unique.
Athens hosted the Games a decade ago and certain aspects of poor management led to a massive rise in costs. Has this been a useful experience for you concerning your budget?
Transparency is a key theme in our project and we have worked very hard together with our government partners to deliver robust and transparent budgets. It is important to draw the distinction between the Organizing Committee budget, which comes entirely from private resources, and the government infrastructure, legacy and venue budgets, which are for the long-term improvement of the city to benefit its residents and involve both private and public money.
How is Rio going to deal with its Olympic legacy?
The Games are acting as an important catalyst to accelerate the sustainable transformation of Rio and Brazil. The Rio 2016 bid was built upon the existing long-term plan for the city. The Games are helping to take many projects off the drawing board and put them into action, in areas such as transport, accommodation, urban renewal, accessibility as well as improved sporting facilities.
Athens was left with a number of structures with no post-Olympic use. How many temporary structures will Rio 2016 have?
The Rio Games is committed to leaving no white elephants. Wherever there was not a specific sporting legacy identified, a temporary venue is being utilized. We are in the fortunate position that almost half of our venues are pre-existing as a legacy of Rio hosting the 2007 Pan American Games. The Handball Arena in the Barra Olympic Park will be a temporary structure built using “nomadic architecture” so it can be deconstructed and transformed into four schools with room for 2,000 students in legacy mode. This is a first for the Games.
Does the Brazilian government share your dreams and objectives for the Games?
Absolutely. We work in close partnership with the three levels of government – federal, state and municipal – and we are all united in our desire to deliver a unique and memorable Games in 2016 and bring positive transformations to Rio and Brazil in the long term.
When the Games are over, what would you want them to leave you with on a personal level?
Delivering Games which make the nation proud and show the world what Brazil is capable of is my dream. We are working very hard every day, together with our partners, to make this dream a reality.