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In Rio, Olympics Preparations Come Down To The Wire


The opening ceremony of the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro are just a little more than a week away. Fans and athletes are now arriving in Brazil. Things, though, have - to put it mildly - not been going well. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro is our reporter on the ground, and she explains.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: At least half of the Olympic village, the luxury accommodation where the athletes are staying, has had to undergo last-minute repairs, according to Rio 2016 officials. Many teams have been affected, starting with the Australians.

KITTY CHILLER: In our mind, our building is not habitable and not conducive to the performance-focused environment that we are trying to create for our Australian team.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's delegation head Kitty Chiller speaking to reporters in Rio on Sunday. The Australian team reported problems with electrical wiring, plumbing and flooding, and they were unable to move into their rooms. The American and Italian teams reportedly hired their own handymen to get their accommodation up to scratch.

On Tuesday, the Argentinians reported even more serious problems, calling the state of their accommodation a disaster, and alleging sabotage to Argentina paper La Nacion, saying there was cement blocking the pipes in their rooms. We reached delegation head Diego Gusman by phone.

DIEGO GUSMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He told NPR he believes a deliberate act of sabotage could have been possible, but it wasn't solely aimed at the Argentinians, as many other delegations were facing problems, too. Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada dismissed sabotage as the culprit.

MARIO ANDRADA: Yeah, no, no, no. We heard about this, but that's not a possibility that we're working on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Instead, he acknowledged that bad planning was more likely to blame.

ANDRADA: It's never one single reason. It's usually a collection of mistakes that produce a problem. In this case was a collection of small mistakes, you know, water connected too late, electricity connected too late. And we certainly mixed up some of the priorities, and we didn't pass in time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Olympic village was built by a private consortium, and the apartments are to be sold as luxury housing. Sales, though, have been slow, leading to speculation - that's why the builders cut corners. Camila Mattoso is covering the Olympic village for the biggest newspaper in Brazil, Folha de San Paulo.

CAMILA MATTOSO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says, "the consortium stopped cleaning, stopped doing the finishing touches, and didn't test what needed to be tested," she says.

MATTOSO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says, "it's causing a huge embarrassment to the committee to have some of the teams have to wait to move into their rooms." Security has also been a concern in the run up to the games in what reportedly is the largest ransom in Brazilian history. Kidnappers are seeking nearly $37 million to release the mother-in-law of Bernie Ecclestone. He's the billionaire owner of the racing Formula One franchise. The kidnapping is not directly related to the games, but it is heightening worries over the situation in the country.

But on the famous Copacabana beach, tourists are already out in force, enjoying the sun and spectacular scenery. Sebestian Zuniga is a 20-year-old Mexican tourist.

SEBESTIAN ZUNIGA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "You can see people arriving," he says. "It's getting crazy. It's very cool."

ZUNIGA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then he offers, "I'll tell you a personal story. They mugged me the day before yesterday." He says two women stole his cell phone right on Copacabana beach. He says, despite that though, he's happy to be here. And he predicts fantastic games. He called his mugging a learning experience. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.