COC president says Rio preparations on target, despite reports of pollution

Amid reports of severe pollution and thousands of dead fish at the sailing venue for the 2016 Rio Olympics, Marcel Aubut says he is “absolutely confident” that preparations for next summer’s Games are on schedule.

Aubut and several COC staff members, along with Canada’s chef de mission Jean-Luc Brassard, are in Rio this week to visit venues, and the group is encouraged by the Games progress, according to Aubut.

“We are 520 days out from the opening ceremonies and at all levels, the preparations for the Rio 2016 Games are looking exceptional and are on track,” he said on a conference call Wednesday. “Reports here are just unanimous as far as it’s going very, very well.”

Aubut’s comments came amid reports last week of a fish die-off that has left thousands of carcasses floating in Rio’s sewage- and trash-filled Guanabara Bay. Grim photos showed a layer of dead fish lining the water’s surface.

Aubut said the COC had not toured the sailing venue, but added “The answer I got (Tuesday) on that question was absolutely to our satisfaction, and that they are absolutely not going to risk their reputation for a problem like this, whatever size is the problem.

“I am absolutely confident that this group of people is going to absolutely work it out. . . I have zero doubt that all those things will be resolved.”

Water quality has become a hot-button ticket for next summer’s Games, and several sailors who competed in test events in Rio have complained about having to dodge dead animals and floating furniture, calling it the dirtiest play they’ve ever competed.

“We heard about this of course, we are very well-informed,” Aubut said. “But for what we see in general. . . It’s a problem today, but there is one year and a half to go, and they are very sensitive about to make sure that there is a solution for everything.”

Rio’s O Globo newspaper reported that around 60 tons of dead fish were collected in the November die-offs.

In December, a drug-resistant “super bacteria” normally found in hospitals was also discovered in the water around the bay.

Top International Olympic Committee officials visited Rio last week and said they were optimistic.

“We were impressed by the progress being made on the venues,” Nawal El Moutawakel, head of the inspection team, told reporters.

Protesters interrupted IOC meetings last Saturday, bursting into a hotel lobby in front of dozens of journalists to protest several ecological issues surrounding the Games, including the pollution in Guanabara Bay and the construction of a golf course in what had been a nature reserve.

Aubut said he had the Olympic golf course, along with the volleyball venue, aquatic venues and several Olympic stadiums.

“For me, it’s my first time in this country, I’m discovering a fantastic country, and I just imagine what will be the scenery on television for broadcasting those fantastic Games,” Aubut said. “Just incredible images. . . This place looks like heaven in many aspects.”

Brassard, who won gold in moguls at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, was similarly impressed with Brazil.

“We went through a lot of meetings, a lot of venue sites that just answered all of our deepest questions about whether they are going to be ready or not,” Brassard said. “They’re going to be ready, they’re going to be a great Games.

“I’m sure they’re going to be for the Summer Games what Lillehammer was for the Winter Games. The venues are exceptional, the situations are exceptional, and the people just breathe sports around here.”

Rio is spending about $14 billion on the games, a mixture of private and public money. Brazil spent $12 billion on the World Cup.

— With files from The Associated Press.



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