Rio Olympics need a major reboot

The tremors worsen; is a ‘quake possible? even liquefaction?

The Rio games are less than three years away. The IOC has taken a publicly soft course with the Rio organisers and the three participating aka host governments – and even now that frustrations and concerns have bubbled over, partly occasioned by a new IOC president, it is a bit surprising just how reserved are the official comments. Undoubtedly this is related to the socio-political tinderbox that has been revealed in Brazil, mainly in relation to the Football World Cup, but those issues are not done and dealt with. They will re-emerge as the FIFA event draws closer and the more likely the Olympics will become targeted.

Two years ago during a visit I made to Rio, the ‘talk of the Olympics town’ was the pressing need for a matrix of responsibilities between the three levels of government – an agreement around funding needs, allocation processes, process responsibilities and event-time and post event ownership. Even then the stumbling blocks were said to be egos, desires to be king and kingmaker, and lack of trust. There was also the matter of many vested interests wanting to be the main beneficiaries.

The masterplan – still not finalised  – was considered a task to be easily done between Carnival and Easter.

Core element of progress have not been resolved. The President Dilma Rouseff is struggling to retain any semblance of support. Sergio Cabral, Governor of Rio State is under the ‘mismanagement gun’ or is it that some friends are not getting what they expected. Paes, the once rock-star popular man / mayor of Rio has lost popularity and with his administration beset with Olympics issue has openly said he wished Rio hadn’t been awarded the games. Let’s not overlook the national election in 2014.

Costs keep escalating. There is no budget for the event. The politics of Brazil and Rio are in danger of 'consuming' both the Olympics and World Cup as one. Government debt is becoming enormous.  Legacy from the Olympics is ceratinly not foremost in local minds.

Privately, people in Rio close to the various games projects express serious concerns about lack of vision, understanding, technical competence and organisational capabilities…just the lack of decision making and action. Would a matrix of responsibilities now provide much more than a clear flow of funding and process for critical projects? Is it still possible that to get the major advances needed, the Rio organisers will take up external teams, effectively in place of their own?  

So, why did I allude to upheavals of (minor) tectonic proportions? There will need to be a minor revolution in the management in Rio. The socio-political underlay will re-emerge and is a fact of life….Brazil will not place on hold its emergence simply because of FIFA or the IOC. Liquefaction…? in such dramatic city of towering mountains. I’m speaking of organisational change that must be implemented from within with much support from outside.  The other side to the earthquake reference is with an eye on the rebuilding of Christchurch in New Zealand where a range of relatively immediate well-designed solutions ranging across shipping containers, rapid modular building concepts and use of reinforced cardboard for construction are among the novel approaches that are succeeding there. Of course, we don’t recommend papier-mache for Rio but the time is now for some extensive, creative cut-through.


After the recent visit by the IOC Coordination Commission:

Nawal El Moutawakel [head of the Commission] told the IOC Congress [in Buenos Aires] that Rio had made "reassuring" progress in the last year but there was still a lot of work to do. Ms El Moutawakel said the venue masterplan still had to be finalised, a timetable of construction had to be signed off and a matrix of responsibility had to be developed. "We have agreed that Rio has these three urgent priorities," she said, with apparent understatement.

"Over recent months, the social and political environment and operations has significantly changed," she said.

"There is a need, more than ever before, that all stakeholders need to work together.

"Key decisions need to be made collectively and communicated with one voice."


Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper, who also serves as chairman of the IOC press commission, told Nuzman [head of both the organising committee and the Brazil Olympic Committee] that Rio needed to get their media operations in order, including better communication with the Brazilian public to reassure them about the Games and end the protests.

"I'm still concerned with the delay related to your press operations. It took you three and a half years to appoint a media chief," Gosper said.

"You simply have to keep your public aware about what's happening.

"If the community doesn't get it, you'll have a repeat of what you've had (protests)."

Eric Winton

Director, New Millennium Business

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