RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – The Australian Olympic team refused to move in to Rio de Janeiro’s village for athletes on Sunday, saying the accommodation was “not safe or ready” for next month’s games.
“Due to a variety of problems in the Village, including gas, electricity and plumbing, I have decided that no Australian Team member will move into our allocated building,” delegation head Kitty Chiller said on Sunday.
It is the first time the Olympics have been held in South America. Chiller cited problems including “blocked toilets, leaking pipes and exposed wiring.” Some Village apartments had water running down the walls and “a strong smell of gas,” while stairwells were unlit and floors were in need of a thorough clean, she said.
The first Australian athletes to arrive in Rio were due to move into the Village on July 21 but have instead been living in nearby hotels.
“We will stick to our plan of no athletes staying in the Village for next 2 days,” Chiller said later on Sunday.
“I am reasonably confident we will be able to enter the Village on Wednesday.”
Australia, which finished eighth in the medals table four years ago, is to bring 410 athletes for the games which start on Aug. 5. Rio de Janeiro officials referred to “teething troubles” and promised that crews “will be working 24 hours a day until the issues are resolved.”
“Athletes that are arriving in the Village and whose accommodation is not finished will be placed in the best available accommodation in other buildings,” said a statement from organizers.
“We will be working hard to ensure that the ongoing works do not disturb their preparations for the Games – preparations that will be taking place in fully checked, top quality training venues. We regret any inconvenience that this may cause and we greatly appreciate the understanding of the National Olympic Committees at this time.” Chiller said she had raised concerns on a daily basis with the organizers and the International Olympic Committee.
Extra maintenance staff and more than 1,000 cleaners were engaged to fix the problems and clean the Village, Chiller said, but the faults, particularly with plumbing, were not resolved. Such problems are not uncommon in Brazil where narrow pipes and poor plumbing mean residents throw toilet paper in bins rather than flush it away.
Australian team staff are continuing to set up for the arrival of athletes and for those coming in the next three days alternative accommodation has been arranged.
But while Chiller said the New Zealand and Great Britain teams had experienced similar problems, officials from Team GB distanced themselves from the controversy and Rio officials said more than 200 athletes from other nations moved into the village on Sunday without complaint.
“We are confident that our accommodation is ready to receive athletes and will be to the highest standards within the Village,” Team GB Communications Director Scott Field said in a statement. “Whilst we have encountered some maintenance difficulties, this is not uncommon with new build structures of this type and we have been working hard to overcome them.”
Local media have reported that some team delegations have sought to hire their own maintenance crews to make their quarters suitable. There have been complaints before other big spectacles in Brazil, such as the 2014 World Cup where stadium crews were still wielding paintbrushes and screwdrivers minutes before kickoff.
Chiller has already demanded a review of security procedures after a Paraolympic sailor and another team official were robbed at gunpoint in June. Tens of thousands of troops and law enforcement officials spread out across the city on Sunday in a show of force. Rio last month declared a state of financial emergency to help fulfill obligations for public services during the Olympics.
(Reporting by Andrew Downie and Ossian Shine, Additional reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier. Editing by Pritha Sarkar/Ruth Pitchford)