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NEWS FEATURE 100 days to go, crises overshadow Rio Olympics By Georg Ismar, dpa

Europe
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The Olympic Games have yet to really fire the imagination in Rio de Janeiro as the host city faces a number of challenges in a country mired in political and economic crises. On Wednesday there are 100 days to go.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Rio‘s mayor Eduardo Paes has recently been opening a new sports venue almost every week. Now 98 per cent of the venues are ready, organizers say ahead of the first Olympic Games to be held in South America.

"The biggest challenges in organizing these mega events have now been overcome," Paes said during the 10th and last visit by an inspection team from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

IOC executive director Christophe Dubi agreed that "the fundamentals are in place" and that "all is coming to fruition" for the Games.

ROLE MODEL BARCELONA 1992

Paes‘s great ideal is Barcelona 1992. As with the Spanish host city, Paes would like a joyful, light-hearted feel to the Games with fabulous imagery to help create a tourist boom in one of the world‘s most beautiful cities. He wants to avoid stadiums standing empty after the Games. One 10,000-capacity venue will be turned into a school when the Olympics are over.

SPORTS VENUES WILL BE READY

The new swimming arena with its artistic facade is the jewel of the Olympic Park. A natural ventilation system has been worked into the aquatic centre‘s design. Only the velodrome is behind schedule, but will be ready on time. Unlike Athens 2004, the venues are not the biggest problem for organizers, even though some sports federations have complained about much smaller spectator capacities than in London four years ago.

The renovated athletics stadium (60,000 capacity), the home of Botafogo Football Club, stages the track and field competition. The paramount aim for the organizers is sustainability and a cost-conscious Games. As such there no "real" Olympic Stadium, with the opening and closing ceremonies in the Maracana football temple.

RECESSION AND POLITICAL CHAOS

Brazilians have other concerns. Economic output fell by 3.8 per cent in 2015, and the country is facing its biggest recession since the 1930s. Some 9.6 million people are now unemployed in once-booming Brazil. The country is meanwhile in the middle of a political crisis. The Brazilian congress last week voted to impeach Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who has lost almost all her coalition partners. If she is suspended, vice-president Michel Temer would open the Games. The developments come amid a huge corruption scandal in which more than 50 politicians are linked. The country is deeply divided, and as a result of the poor economic situation the Rio Games organizers have been forced to make radical savings. There will be thousands of fewer volunteers, and athletes will have to put up with less comfort. The opening and closing ceremonies will be much more modest than first planned.

THE METRO PROBLEM

The biggest worry is the new metro line linking the city to the Olympic Park in the Barra district. It is the most important infrastructure project, taking up around a quarter of the entire budget, but will possibly not be completely ready on time. Originally the line was to cost 8.5 billion reais, but could now reach more than 10 billion (2.8 billion dollars). As a compromise there could be a limited version. In the worst case, tourists would have to travel the 40-kilometre distance from city centre to the Olympic Park by shuttle bus. Getting around could be nerve-racking for hundreds of thousands of Rio visitors - already the roads to Barra are often jammed.

SAILING IN THE CESSPOOL

Can the power of images - for example the giant Christ the Redeemer statue looking down on the rowers in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon - help gloss over the problems. The lagoon has suffered chronic fish kills as a result of pollution. Even more dramatic is the quality of the sailing waters in the picturesque Guanabara Bay. Faeces, sewage, multi-resistant bacteria make it advisable not to fall in the water. The pollution debate has led to environmental concerns being given greater political focus, but the bay, crossed by giant container ships on the way to the harbour, is simply too big for there to be rapid improvements on water quality.

SLOW TICKET SALES

Concerns over the mysterious Zika virus may have put some Olympics fans off of making a visit to Rio. However mosquitoes carrying the virus are much less active in the winter months, and Rio is not as affected as the northeast. Of 7.4 million tickets, only some 62 per cent have been sold so far. It is hoped sales will pick up now the draws have been made for the football tournaments.

GLOOMY SPORTING PROSPECTS

The atmosphere will also depend on the success of Brazilian athletes, but medals prospects are not that bright. The country‘s only swimming gold medallist, Cesar Cielo, has missed qualification. Brazil‘s best female sprinter, Ana Claudia Lemos, will also be watching the Games on the sidelines after failing a doping test. A gold medal in football is almost compulsory with Brazil hoping star striker Neymar, who has been released by Barcelona for the tournament, can inspire them to victory. At the 2012 London Games, Brazil were 22nd in the medals table, garnering three gold, five silver and nine bronze medals. But the organizers are hoping the Games will ride a wave of traditional Brazilian joy and passion and in the end they can say, "tudo bem."

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