IOC begins Rio visit

April 29, 2009 4:41:07 PM PDT
Sunshine and temperatures near 80 degrees greeted International Olympic Committee members on the first official day of their inspection of Rio de Janeiro.The IOC team spent much of the day inside quizzing Rio's bid team about their plan to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Many Olympic experts consider Rio to be Chicago's biggest competitor in the 2016 race.

At $14 billion, Rio's budget for hosting the games is as much as all of the other candidate cities plan on spending combined.

But that's part of Rio's sales pitch. Essentially, they say, Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo don't need the games to establish themselves on the world stage.

They certainly know how to throw a party. Rio de Janeiro burst onto the Olympic scene in 2007 by hosting the Pan American Games.

"The lesson learned is this is highly competitive," said Mayor Richard M. Daley.

That was Mayor Daley's impression when we talked on the last day of his visit.

On Thursday, IOC members enjoyed a view of Copacabana Beach giving way to the Atlantic Ocean out their hotel windows.

"We're trying to offer the IOC new markets. A young vibrant continent they've never been to," said Mario Cilenti, Rio 2016 international relations director. "Basically, Rio is ready."

Rio built several new sports stadiums for the Pan-Am Games and hopes to use them again in 2016.

The reason Rio's budget is so big is because the city needs massive infrastructure improvements. A new subway system, communications grid and airport improvements are all on the Olympic shopping list.

"This investment that is being made is one that makes for the city anyway. It's something that will stay there after the Olympics," said Ambassador Joao Almino, Brazil consul general in Chicago.

The passion of the Brazilian people for all things athletic combined with the breathtaking beauty of Rio are huge advantages. But the mountains and sea are also the reason why Rio's venues would be fairly spread out and the city itself is often choked with traffic.

And in the slums known as 'favelas' virtual wars are being waged. Last year more than 2,000 people were murdered in Rio. That's an average of more than 38 killings each week.

Brazil's consul general concedes crime is a concern, but not he says for Olympic visitors.

"Most of the criminality in Rio is localized and would not take place in these areas," said Ambassador Almino.

The Pan-Am Games proved Rio can host Olympic-caliber competition.

Back in 2007, a Palatine native we met said the city and its people have made a convert out of him.

"Rio deserves a chance to have the spotlight. Just look behind you, it's beautiful," said Sneh Rao, Palatine native.

Back to Rio's $14 billion Olympic budget.

Rio's international relations director told me today that his city is being fully transparent and open about the costs it expects to incur. The suggestion being, perhaps Chicago and the others are not.


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