The head of Australia’s delegation said Sunday its 700 athletes and staff would not move into rooms at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics for at least two days, citing electrical and plumbing problems in the sprawling Athletes Village less than two weeks before the start of the troubled South American games.
“Electricity and water is not a good combination,” Kitty Chiller, the head of the Australian delegation, told reporters.
She said this was her fifth Olympics, and she came down hard on village preparations.
“I have never experienced a village in this state — or lack of state — of readiness at this point in time,” she said.
Australia’s protest came as the 31-building village, which will house 18,000 athletes and officials at the height of the games, opened officially on Sunday. It was not clear how many athletes were housed in the village on the day.
This is the latest problem for the games, which have been hit by the Zika virus, security threats, water pollution and severe budget cuts.
Chiller and Australian team spokesman Mike Tancred described a wide array of plumbing, electrical and cleaning issues. Tancred said 10 of the 31 buildings were determined to be inhabitable.
“We’re having plumbing problems, we’ve got leaking pipes,” Tancred told AP. “We’ve got electrical problems. We’ve got cleaning problems. We’ve got lighting problems in some of the stairwells. We did a stress test on Saturday, turned on the taps and flushed the toilets, and water came flooding down the walls.”
Chiller listed the same problems, and added more.
“Water came down walls, there was a strong smell of gas in some apartments and there was `shorting’ in the electrical wiring,” she said. “We have been living in nearby hotels because the village is simply not safe or ready.”
Chiller said six athletes arriving Monday and 50 on Tuesday have been placed in hotels or other accommodations. She said she hopes they can move into the village quickly, and sounded encouraged.
“I am reasonably confident that we will be able enter the village on Wednesday,” she said.
She described other amenities in the village as among the best.
“This is one of the most beautiful villages I’ve ever been in,” she said. “It looks spectacular. There are just teething issues in some of the service inside the building.”
Several teams are hiring their own tradesmen to fix the problems, and some may look for compensation from local organizers.
Carlo Mornati, the Italian Olympic team leader, said that some areas of the village were still not ready and that his national Olympic committee, CONI, had been hiring workmen to carry out repairs for days.
“Among these unfinished areas are also a few apartments in block 20, the one to be used by Italy, and where manual workers, electricians, plumbers and bricklayers – hired by CONI officials there as a matter of urgency – have been working over the past few days so that the athletes’ accommodation can be brought up to normal conditions as soon as possible,” he in a statement Sunday.
The United States Olympic Committee acknowledged there were small problems.
“As is the case with every games, we’re working with the local organizers to address minor issues and make sure the village is ready for Team USA athletes,” spokesman Patrick Sandusky told AP.
The International Olympic Committee and local organizers held emergency talks Sunday and met with the heads of several teams.
In a statement, the IOC said athletes with unfinished rooms would “be placed in the best available accommodation in other buildings.” It said fixing the problem “will take another few days.”
Local reports said about 5 percent of the 3,600 apartments had gas, water and electrical faults, and some were without toilet fixtures.
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes took a shot at the Australians at the opening on Sunday.
“This is an incredible village, more beautiful and better than Sydney,” he said referring to Australia’s 2000 Olympics. He said he was tempted to put “a kangaroo jumping outside” to make them happy.
The 31-building compound contains tennis courts, soccer fields, seven swimming pools — with mountains and the sea as a backdrop — topped off by a massive dining-kitchen area that’s as large as three football fields.
The apartments are to be sold after the Olympics with some prices reaching $700,000. The development cost about $1.5 billion, built by Brazilian billionaire Carlos Carvalho.
Reports say sales of the apartments are sluggish — about 6-10 percent sold — partly because of Brazil’s deep recession.
“From the exterior it looks like the Hilton Hotel,” Tancred said. “But inside, it’s not finished.”
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Stephen Wade