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Olympic officials: Rio won’t be scarred by politics, graft

Nawal El Moutawakel
The Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Rio de Janeiro Olympics won’t be scarred by the impeachment proceedings against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a $3 billon corruption scandal touching scores of powerful politicians and businessmen, and the country’s deepest recession in decades.

That was the message Wednesday from Rio organizers and International Olympic Committee inspectors, who completed their final official tour of Rio’s preparations with South America’s first games opening in under four months.

“Despite the hardships and hard economic conditions, they are on target,” said inspection team member Patrick Hickey of Ireland.

But Hickey also suggested lowering expectations, saying the games won’t be like those in London four years ago or Beijing in 2008.

Nawal El Moutawakel, the head of the inspection team, said turmoil in the country wasn’t having an impact on preparations but that much remained to be done.

“There remain 114 days to go and thousands and thousands of little details are yet to be managed,” she said. “Their timely resolution will make the difference between an average Olympic Games and a great Olympic Games.”

Despite the optimism, Brazil’s government is nearly paralyzed with barricades around government offices in Brasilia to separate anti- and pro-government protesters as the lower House of Deputies prepares to vote on the impeachment measure on Sunday.

Rousseff has often mentioned the games in recent speeches.

“If we are capable of organizing the Olympics, if we are capable of organizing the Paralympics, then we are capable of making our country’s economy grow again,” Rousseff said last week at the Olympic swimming venue.

Rio’s games have myriad problems.

Most of the venues are nearly ready, but uncertainty lingers everywhere else.

— The mosquito-borne Zika virus could keep tourists away and poses a risk to young athletes — particularly young women. There’s strong evidence that the virus is to blame for an increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads. A statement this week from the Centers for Disease Control in the United States said “everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought.”

— Only 50 percent of the 3.5 million tickets allocated to Brazilians have been sold, and international sales are reportedly tepid.

— Venues for sailing, rowing, canoeing and open-water swimming contain high levels of viruses and, in some cases, bacteria from human sewage. Organizers have repeatedly said the waters are safe, which contradicts an independent study done over the last year by The Associated Press.

— A $500 million cut to balance the operating budget will impact everything from food service to transportation, to resources for the opening and closing ceremonies. Seating has also been reduced at several venues.

— No one seems sure if a critical subway line extension will be finished. It’s the major project linked to the games, connecting Ipanema and Copacabana to the west suburb where the Olympic Park is located.

— The state of Rio de Janeiro has cut its policing budget by $550 million, putting Olympic security into question. Brazil will employ about 85,000 soldiers and police at the games.

— A Rio de Janeiro city councilman has asked for an inquiry into possible corruption in Olympics projects, and a judge has ruled that the probe should go forward. The federal police are also conducting an investigation.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, who has guided much of the Olympic spending through the city hall, has said repeatedly there are no charges against him although “everyone is crazy to find (some).” He has been the Switzerland-based IOC’s point man organizing the games and will leave office when his term expires after the Olympics.

“Everyone can see regardless of reports, gossip and rumors and things going around, that things are going very well in Olympic preparations,” Paes said this week as he showed off the Olympic Park to the IOC inspectors.

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson in London contributed

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Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/stephen-wade

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