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Rio 2016 Press Coverage: Of Men and Molehills

Reports of delayed infrastructure projects for the Rio 2016 Olympics have been picked up with fervor in recent days by numerous press outlets. Some of these articles go as far as to speculate that various amenities will not be ready for the Games. After Brazil’s showing during the World Cup in 2014, this speculation comes as no surprise.

But Brazil is stepping up, really improving its performance, and faster than some may realize. It’s important to distinguish between fact and speculation, and to give credit where credit is due.

There are four main criticisms that have been put forth by various media outlets. The first is that construction of several venues has not started. The second is that only about 10 percent of the 56 Olympic projects have been finished. The third criticism is that a quarter of projects don’t even have fixed time frames or cost estimates. The last criticism is that the energy infrastructure necessary for the Games will not be completed in time.

Brazil’s Responsibility Matrix, published in Portuguese in January, tracks the progress of Olympic construction projects. It now shows that every major venue is currently under contract or construction, with a timeline that shows the projects have begun and giving a completion date. As of now, according to the published timeline, every project is on track. Even during the first revision of the Matrix, published in January, only three projects had been pushed back (The Mountain Biking facility, and the renovations of the Marina da Glória and Estádio Olímpico João Havelange).

We’ll find out in June, when the Matrix is again updated, whether Brazil remains on schedule. But for now, it is too soon and counterproductive to criticize the organizations responsible for holding the Olympics for falling behind.

The inference that only 10 percent of the projects are finished is drawn from the January update to the Matrix.  But this inference exposes one of the Matrix’s limitations. A maturation level of “4” in the Matrix means a contract has been signed to take on the project. A maturation level of “5” means a project has been completed. That’s a huge time frame and a massive completion step. As an example, five projects now showing a maturation of “4” are slated to be completed by next month. If reports criticizing construction are based on the Matrix update from January, that criticism may now be dated.

While a quarter of the projects have not started or are not in construction and have no cost or schedule (a maturation level of either 2 or 3), we must understand what those projects involve. Eight of the fifteen projects with a maturation level of “1” are what the Matrix calls “instalações complementares,” or complementary facilities, such as sports equipment. Without understanding that these projects are not buildings, but merely complements to existing buildings, the number of un-started projects seems more alarming than it needs to be.

Perhaps some of these misunderstandings could be prevented by translating the Matrix into English? Given the number of critics-to-be of Brazil’s Olympic preparation who do not speak Portuguese, it would seem in Brazil’s interest to do so.

The last criticism revolves around the energy infrastructure necessary to facilitate the Games. The January update to the Matrix shows that no project in the category of “ENERGIA ELÉTRICA” has reached a maturation level of “5” — none has been completed. Concerns here may therefore be warranted.  We hope and trust that substantial progress will occur before the release of the updated Matrix. For now, it’s too soon to throw stones at Brazil for not delivering on time.

In times like this, it’s important to remember that we need to temper our criticism with hope. Hope without criticism is naivete but criticism without hope becomes cynicism. Looking at the Olympic infrastructure buildout through a lens of objectivity, we believe, will give our community hope that the Games will continue as planned and hedge against some unfounded criticism.

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Tyler Klink is a third-year student at the University of Richmond School of Law and a member of the Brazil Olympic Corruption research team. 

Andy Spalding is Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Associate Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, and leads the research team.

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