Fatal path collapse puts Rio's Olympic readiness in spotlight

At the flame-lighting in the ruins of ancient Olympia, Brazil’s sport minister Ricardo Leyser tried to assure the world about the troubled Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Hours later on Thursday back in Rio, a 50-metre (150-feet) section of a bike path built high above the sea — opened just three months ago as a legacy project for the games — crashed into the water below, with at least two dead.

It’s another black mark for Rio. And it comes on a day rich with Olympic ritual, and also in a week when Olympic sports federations said they were concerned about the work remaining, with the games opening in 14 weeks.

“It will be a big party and people will forget the other problems and just focus on the games,” Leyser said.

Carlos Nuzman, who heads the Rio organising committee, said in Greece the Olympics “can and will unite our dear Brazil.” This will not be easy.

The bike path will not host Olympic events. But it was built along a winding road that’s part of the route for road cycling and links Ipanema and Copacabana beaches to the western suburb of Barra da Tijuca, site of the Olympic Park.

At the opening earlier this year, Rio mayor Eduardo Paes called it “the most beautiful bike path in the world”. A city hall document described it as an Olympic legacy project.

The collapse raises questions about building standards, adding to a long list of other worries. It also resembles an overpass that collapsed and killed two in Belo Horizonte, located 450km (280 miles) north-west of Rio de Janeiro, during the 2014 World Cup. It was also part of readying the city for the World Cup.

“Our thoughts and sympathies are with the people and their families and friends affected by the tragic accident,” the Rio organising committee said in a statement.

Organisers say 98% of the construction for the games is complete.

However, this week a top gymnastics official said power outages disrupted a recent test event. Francesco Ricci Bitti, the head of a body representing Olympic sports federations, said organizers “miss some very important details in each field of play”.

Several other venues are behind schedule, including the velodrome for indoor cycling.

The biggest laggard is the extension of the subway line, the largest project to ready the city for South America’s first games.

Transportation officials said last week they had completed excavation work linking two tunnels. Sidney Levy, the CEO of the organising committee, said the subway would have a “soft opening” a month before the games open.

Some of the largest problems are away from venues.

Brazil is in its deepest recession in decades, unemployment is 10% and President Dilma Rousseff is fighting impeachment and is likely to be removed from office when the games open, a major embarrassment for the International Olympic Committee.

Brazil is also at the epicentre of the Zika virus, organisers have cut €445m in spending — eliminating 20,000 volunteers — and only 60% of tickets have been sold.

Corruption is also rearing its head near the Olympics, as it has in the $3b Petrobras bribery scandal that has played a role in Rousseff’s downfall.

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

The respected newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo reported that the company that built the bike path is owned by the family of the municipal public works secretary, Antonio Paulo Viegas Figueira de Mello. A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment on the alleged family connection. She also declined to provide any details about the bike path and could not say whether the company was involved in any other Olympic projects.

“The priorities at the moment are to ensure treatment of the victims and their families and evaluate the causes of the accident,” said the company’s two-sentence-long statement.


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