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IOC dismisses reports that 2016 Olympics could be moved from Rio to London

Logo for the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Logo for the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Logo courtesy of 2016Rio.com, used with permission

Despite stating that Rio de Janeiro’s preparations for the 2016 Olympics were the “worst ever,” the International Olympic Committee has rejected reports there’s an alternate plan to relocate the Summer Games to London, according to Britain’s The Guardian newspaper Friday.

"This is simply a non-starter – totally without foundation and totally unfeasible. Not a shred of truth," an IOC spokeswoman said of the notion that the Games might be moved from Rio to London. Another IOC source said the story was "total rubbish."

The IOC was forced to respond after another British newspaper, The Evening Standard, had reported Friday that “an informal approach was made by Olympics bosses to discover whether enough venues from the triumphant 2012 London Games could be brought back into use,” fueling speculation that the IOC was at least considering the possibility of transferring the next Olympics from Brazil to Great Britain.

The issue of Rio’s readiness was raised last month after John Coates, the Australian IOC vice-president, declared that Rio de Janeiro’s preparations for the Olympics it’s slated to host in two years were “the worst I’ve experienced.” He told a Sydney conference last month that construction had not begun on some venues, infrastructure was significantly delayed, and water quality was a major concern.

"The situation is critical on the ground,” said Coates. “We have become very concerned. They are not ready in many, many ways. We have to make it happen and that is the IOC's approach. You can't walk away from this."

In its Friday report, The Evening Standard cited an unnamed, top-level IOC official as saying, “At a comparable planning stage in 2004 Athens had done 40 per cent of preparations on infrastructure, stadiums and so on. London had done 60 per cent. Brazil has done 10 per cent – and they have just two years left. So the IOC is thinking, ‘What’s our plan B?’”

“Obviously, the answer would be to come back to London,” the undisclosed IOC official continued. “It’s very unlikely but it would be the logical thing to do.”

While some facilities for the 2012 London Olympics have been torn down or put to other use, a number of major venues would be available. “Yes, of course it can be done,” said Will Glendinning, director of the major event consultants Allium and who worked on the London Organizing Committee for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. “One of the UK’s greatest exports is our major events capability. The expertise exists and regarding facilities we are a couple of years away — more than enough time to get things ready.”

That said, The Evening Standard admitted the chances of the Olympics returning to London were “infinitesimally small” according to individuals close to the Olympic movement.

Instead, the IOC is concentrating on efforts to assist the Brazilian government in its preparations for the 2016 Games, sending executive director Gilbert Felli to Rio to lead a troubleshooting team to address the most critical issues, including infrastructure and accommodations.

The idea of relocating an event of the size and scope of the Olympics – a two-week event that draws approximately 10,000 athletes, a similar number of credentialed media members, and hundreds of thousands of spectators – may seem beyond serious consideration. However, there is historic precedent. In 1908, the Summer Olympics were scheduled to take place in Rome. However, when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted, the Games were moved to London.

Years ago, an Australian sports historian who had been involved in the planning for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, told this writer of a similar situation as he assisted Athens with its preparations to host the Games in 2004. He claimed the IOC had warned Greek officials that, if they did not step up the pace of their preparations, the Athens Olympics might be relocated to Los Angeles, host of the 1932 and 1984 Games. Greece got its act together, though there was last-minute work on some infrastructure, including the wrestling venue, which had painting and seat installation continuing on the first day of competition.