BRASILIA, February 25- Brasília (AFP) – International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach praised preparations for next year’s Rio Games despite concerns over polluted water in Guanabara Bay, which will host sailing, and transport issues which authorities hinted could be overcome by declaring a public holiday for the duration.
“I am very satisfied,” Bach said as he left Rio for talks in Brasilia with President Dilma Rousseff ahead of a three-day meeting of the IOC’s executive committee.
The IOC’s coordination commission has been visiting venues to determine progress.
Ahead of meeting Rousseff, Bach noted “a great deal of progress since last year” in an interview with Brazilian television.
And the 61-year-old German former Olympic fencing champion was even more upbeat after he had held his meeting with the president.
“Our Brazilian hosts are taking responsibility,” said Bach.
“We have full confidence that these games will be safe games and that the world will feel very welcome here in Brazil. I’m absolutely sure it will be done.”
Since the Games were awarded to Rio, the first ever South American hosts, in 2009, the city has been racing against the clock to overhaul creaking infrastructure for an event costing around $14 billion overall.
Last year, IOC vice-president John Coates slated Brazil’s organization as the “worst ever” amid fears transport improvements including a new metro line were behind schedule.
In addition, environmental campaigners and athletes alike have slammed Guanabara Bay’s refuse-strewn waters which biologists say also risks contamination from superbacteria in adjoining rivers which is resistant to antibiotics.
Coates eventually retracted his comments after the IOC set up a task force designed to monitor preparations more closely.
Rio state governor Luiz Fernando Pezao insisted preparations were progressing smoothly.
“Everything is under control. There are some delays as always with Olympic preparations, but nothing major,” Pezao told reporters.
“I am sure we will be ready on time,” said Pezao, adding Rio would do its utmost to reduce the flow of sewage into the Bay, while not necessarily reaching the official 80 percent target promised in its Games bid.
“We very much want to get to 60, 70, 80 percent for the Games. The important thing is the Games allow us to have an ongoing legacy for the population,” Pezao said.
Last month, Rio’s state environment secretariat indicated a Rio university study showed the target could not be reached inside a decade without billions more investment.
City mayor Eduardo Paes meanwhile suggested he would declare a holiday for the duration of the August 5-21 Games — Rio enacted a similar policy for World Cup matches last year — to enable Olympic fans and tourists, as well as Games delegations, to get around the city more easily.
Paes said he would consult with firms to suggest that “people take holidays during the Olympic period. I don’t want people to leave the city, we want them to stay. But mobility in the city will be greatly affected because of the Olympics,” Paes said.