By Karolos Grohmann
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Rio Olympics organizers on Thursday put on a brave face as problems plaguing the first Games on the South American continent pile up, admitting preparations could have been better but sounding confident of eventual success.
With a backdrop that includes the country’s worst recession since the 1930s and an ongoing political crisis that has divided the continent’s most populous nation, organizers are struggling with many aspects of the Olympics.
From security and empty stands to problematic transportation, volunteer and venue issues and even a lack of standard Olympic branding around the stadiums, the Rio Games are facing a myriad problems five days into competition.
“It is clear that everything we do in life, when we look back we believe we could do better,” Games spokesman Mario Andrada said on Thursday. “It is the first Olympics in South America and first sport event of this kind for the Brazilian public.”
“We reached the Games in a very significant economic crisis. Political changes also affected the mood of the Brazilian people,” he said.
When Rio was awarded the Olympics in 2009 the country was seeing near double-digit annual growth. Economic conditions, however, have meant organizers ran out of cash years before the Games kicked off.
The pending impeachment trial of suspended President Dilma Rousseff and her replacement, interim President Michel Temer, have further fanned discontent among Brazilians.
Spectators, unlike London in 2012, have not rushed to snap up tickets and television pictures, broadcast around the world, show empty seats in almost every venue, with only the Opening Ceremony selling out.
“I am not running away from the question. Things could have been done better and we’ll learn from this and do better at the next big event but we have no regrets,” Andrada said.
Security was always a major concern and armed robberies on athletes and media as well as an attack with rocks on a media bus have only heightened fears.
Shots were also fired in the vicinity of the equestrian center with two bullets discovered there in the past days.
In the latest security incident, gunmen fired on a military police car which strayed into the entrance of a slum not far from the Maracana stadium which will host the athletics competition in the city center.
Three members of the patrol were wounded, one critically.
Despite these problems, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), long criticized for handing the Games to a country that is in more need of social welfare projects than stadiums, said the Games would deliver on promises.
“I am very confident they will be looked back on as landmark Games,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “There are problems here, there are problems at every Games.”
“With a global audience of three or four billion people it is the most watched event. What is important is how these difficulties are dealt with,” Adams said.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Neil Robinson)