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Pan Am Games big test for Brazil's future as sporting venue

Pan Am Games big test for Brazil's future as sporting venue

As Latin America's largest nation prepares to host the Pan American Games in July, Brazilians are crossing their fingers, hoping the event will go off without major problems so the country stays on track as a potential host for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
The hemisphere-wide Olympic-style Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro are seen as a huge test for Brazil to prove it is capable of hosting major international sporting events.
Preparations haven't gone smoothly, with severe construction delays and cost overruns. While organizers say everything will be ready in time and insist the competition will be a success, Rio has seen repeated waves of gang violence.
Brazil also has experienced major air traffic control problems causing periodic mass flight cancellations and delays, and even the possibility of an outbreak of dengue fever is a concern as 5,500 athletes from 42 countries compete July 13-29.
"From what I hear it's not looking good right now," soccer great Pele told local media last week. "Unfortunately, there is a high possibility the stadiums won't be ready in time. That wouldn't be a good visiting card."
Soccer officials guarantee that Brazil's chances of hosting the World Cup won't be affected even if this year's event is plagued by problems, but the Pan Am organizers say they know preparations are crucial _ and promise they will deliver.
"The Games are being planned so they will improve Rio de Janeiro's ability to host high-profile international events," said Carlos Roberto Osorio, secretary-general of Rio's Pan American Games organizing committee. "They will serve as a test for Brazil as it aspires to host the World Cup and the Olympic Games in the future."
About 15,000 police will be deployed to protect the athletes, journalists and officials during the Games, but Rio is prone to sudden outbreaks of violence that are difficult for authorities to control in an urban area where teeming slums controlled by drug gangs loom next to well-heeled beach neighborhoods.
Just weeks ago, residents dived for cover and shielded their children as rival gangs shot at each other and police in violence that killed 20 suspected criminals.
Dengue fever has become a concern with nearly 5,000 cases reported in Rio de Janeiro alone this year. The mosquito-borne tropical disease causes severe headaches and joint pain but usually is not fatal.
More than 3,000 health agents have been working in the city to avoid a new dengue epidemic like the one that claimed at least 50 lives and infected more than 160,000 across Brazil in 2002.
Although air travel woes have eased in recent months, it likely will remain a concern as athletes, journalists and visitors try to reach Rio.
The problems began last year when Brazil's flagship airline Varig nearly disintegrated under crushing debt, causing mass flight cancellations. Earlier this year, thousands of flights from major airports were severely delayed due to problems with the nation's air traffic control system and a strike by traffic controllers.
Even if the Games don't go off perfectly, however, soccer officials remain confident that FIFA will choose Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. It is the only nation bidding for the tournament guaranteed to South America. The announcement is expected in November.
The Brazilian soccer confederation "hopes the Pan American Games are a success, of course, but that would not help Brazil in its bid for the World Cup, just as a disastrous Games would not hurt Brazil's chances either," CBF spokesman Rodrigo Paiva said. "The World Cup is much different. It involves much more."
All that FIFA wants is assurance that Brazil can meet its list of requirements, Paiva said.
Brazil already has spent seven times more than originally projected on the Pan American Games. Federal, state and municipal governments have splurged more than 3.2 billion reals (US$1.6 billion; euro1.2 billion), compared to a 2002 budget of 409 million reals (US$202 million; euro148 million), according to local media.
Sports Minister Orlando Silva Junior told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper recently that "it was a grave lapse in planning." But organizers said the budget had to be revised after federal, state and city authorities decided to upgrade the Games to meet Olympic standards in areas such as technology and security.
With less than three months before the opening ceremony, workers are racing to prepare the Joao Havelange Olympic stadium, the Maracanazinho indoor arena and other sports complexes across the city.
Earlier this year, a judicial dispute between a government agency and Games organizers jeopardized the sailing competition. A court stopped construction at the venue because a the government claimed it could permanently change a national park.
Pan American Games officials later decided to use temporary structures at the venue, assuring the competition will take place.
Besides Rio, other cities that have expressed interest in staging the 2016 Olympics include Chicago, Madrid, Prague, Rome and Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee will chose in October 2009.
"If Rio wants the Olympic Games, it really needs to make a positive impact with the Pan American Games," said Ed Hula, editor of Around the Rings, a global news organization devoted to the Olympics. "They won't have to be perfect, or the best ever, but they will have to run smoothly."


Updated : 2021-06-17 14:42 GMT+08:00