RIO DE JANEIRO — The Summer Olympic Games are just over a week away, and already organizers have been forced to mount a “massive operation” to fix a deluge of plumbing and electricity problems at the Athletes’ Village in Rio.
This is the latest upset for an Olympics taking place amid a severe economic recession, a Zika epidemic, the impeachment process of suspended president Dilma Rousseff, and a spike in crime in Rio state – which is so broke it needed a central government bailout to pay police salaries in arrears.
The latest crisis began on Sunday, when the Australian team said its building in the Athletes’ Village was uninhabitable due to problems with plumbing and electricity.
Now, with those issues resolved, the Australians have begun moving in. But other teams have complained about conditions in many of their apartments. The Argentine committee said two of the five floors of its building are uninhabitable and it is renting apartments nearby for staff. The Belarus Olympic committee published photos of dirty windows and blocked drains on its official page. Swedish athletes reportedly arrived at their accommodations and then left in disgust, while a Kenyan wrote “please fix my toilet” on a notice board in the Olympic Village.
A squad of 600 plumbers and electricians is working flat out to repair everything.
“It is a massive operation and a massive undertaking to fix everything in such a way that we don’t disturb the athletes and we don’t compromise the security,” Mario Andrada, Rio 2016’s communications director, told the Post. The operation will be finished by Thursday, he said.
But the questions being asked are: how bad are the problems, and why wasn’t the village ready when athletes began moving in on July 24?
On Tuesday, TV Globo’s nightly news program, Jornal Nacional, said one company contracted to fix the issues found problems in 57 out of the 272 apartments it was working on, including a lack of power and showers that did not work.
Filmed in shadow, an unidentified engineer working there said he believed the defects stemmed from the construction of the complex, built by a real estate consortium with plans to eventually sell the units.
“I believe they had deadlines. They had to deliver the works on the date, and they delivered it the way it was,” the engineer said.
Ilha Pura, or Pure Island, the real estate developers who built the complex, said the firm had delivered the apartments in pristine condition.
“The construction work was 100 percent finished,” a spokeswoman said in an email. “No kind of structural problem was found.” She spoke on condition of anonymity, citing internal regulations.
Ilha Pura has supplied technical teams to help finish the work, the spokeswoman said, and its priority is to support Rio 2016 in offering athletes “the best hospitality infrastructure.”
That was not what the Australian team had found when it conducted a “stress test” of the apartments on July 23 – turning on toilets and taps on several floors at the same time.
“The system failed. Water came down walls, there was a strong smell of gas in some apartments and there was ‘shorting’ in the electrical wiring,” delegation chief Kitty Chiller said in a statement. “In our mind, our building is not habitable,” she later told reporters.
Rio 2016 is renting the complex of 3,604 apartments from Ilha Pura.
Andrada, the spokesman for Rio 2016, said the complex had been delivered to organizers at the end of May but water and electricity were only connected in June.
“The main cause for the delay was that water and electricity were connected too late” and there was no time to check the units before they were handed to the national Olympic committees, he said.
Andrada said it was not clear whose fault that was.
“Ilha Pura could maybe have delivered some of the apartments in better condition,” he said. “We should have done better testing. But we are not discussing this now.” All the problems would be resolved by Thursday, he said.
“Now the focus is on the resolution of the problem, not the cause of the problem,” he said.
British and U.S. teams said they had been working with organizers to resolve some issues. The Dutch team brought two technicians of its own after facing similar issues at Olympic Villages in London and in the Russian city of Sochi. But Rio was worse, said spokesman John van Vliet.
“It looks absolutely fantastic from the outside,” Vliet said of the complex. Problems with “water, electricity and gas pipes” emerged once the team members started using the apartments, he said.
The Argentines said two of their five floors were not useable and that they were renting apartments nearby for technical staff so athletes could stay in the apartments that were in good shape.
“Rio says they will finish but we can’t run any risks,” Gerardo Werthein, president of the Argentine Olympic Committee, told reporters in Buenos Aires this week. “We know that this is a serious emergency in Rio and all we can do is fix it.”