The show must go on. There have been plenty of challenges to the building and service plans for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. These will be the largest ever in both number of spectators and number of sporting events. Today, the official Coordinating Committee for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games concluded a four day on site visit to Rio de Janeiro with cautious optimism. The experts acknowledged that achieving every single goal of the Rio 2016 plan may be a very high hurdle — but the show will go on.
Today’s standing room only press conference with media from around the world showed that the outlook for Rio 2016 is one of the top topics in sports business. Camera crews from ESPN and CNN prepared material for headline news and future feature reports. Commission Chair El Moutawakel of Morroco reported that “we were pleased to be able to show President Bach that good progress has been made on the Rio 2016 Games.”
A combination of a team approach and bonds of familiarity and trust that are strengthening the team are putting Rio 2016 on track for high performance. The President of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, and Rio de Janiero Mayor Eduardo Paes have served continuously since Rio was awarded the 2016 bid in October 2009. Their staff credit their team approach to big projects like ticketing systems and sports facility to construction to a genuine passion for sports and fitness that guides their personal work styles. This was very much in evidence at the press event, which engaged the media as team players with an important role to play in telling the Rio 2016 story – and in keeping the leaders accountable for success.
The major challenges remaining are big ones. Three big new facilities slated for permanent use after the 2016 Summer Olympics are not close to being finished: the golf course, velodrome and equestrian venues. On the bright side, rain related construction delays have declined since Rio was inundated by floods in December 2013. The reverse side of that development is a growing water shortage that may lead to rationing. The golf course project managers are also responding with a team approach to irrigate the golf greens entirely with recycled water.
The sunny side of Rio and the related drought make achieving higher quality standards for the harbor areas where many sports are scheduled to take place more difficult. The Rio 2016 team had been aiming to reduce pollution and unhealthy bacteria in Guanabara Bay significantly and have not been able to make much progress towards that goal. However, new guidelines passed by the International Olympic Committee last December will make it possible to relocate one or more events to another city like coastal Florianopolis if water quality problems persist.
Getting enough housing for the many spectators who want to see these events is the subject of much brainstorming and a dedicated task force. Cruise ships could add substantial capacity, but disappointing sales that resulted in cancellation of floating hotel projects in Vancouver have made securing financing more difficult.
There are also some issues with big transit projects. Rio already has three subway lines which performed very well during the 2014 World Cup. A fourth is scheduled for completion in June 2016, in time for the Summer Olympics, but too late for test event related traffic. Plans for a new highway to connect the main Olympic complex in coastal Barra di Tijuca with the suburb of Deodoro have encountered delays. A team approach may get these projects done on time, but will require teamwork at a very high level.
The team approach to presenting a positive image for Rio 2016 is getting boost from a popular theme that resounds well with locals. That is “the best things in life are free.” Most of the Rio 2106 events will be ticketed events, but many will be free and visible from thousands of nearby locations in high rise buildings and the hillsides that surround Rio de Janeiro. These include rowing, sailing, windsurfing, several cycling races and two marathons. The physical geography of the city with panoramic views at every turn and broad avenues that can be turned into temporary sports venues will make these free events a way to make sports accessible to more spectators than any time in history. When Pope Francis visited Rio de Janeiro in July 2013, the entire coast of Copacabana was converted into an outdoor stadium for millions of spectators. That compares to the current goal of 7.5 million tickets for general sales to spectators. So the show will go on – and millions of sports fans will see it live.