RIO DE JANEIRO – Australia’s Olympic team leader is keeping the delegation’s 700 athletes or staff out of the Athletes Village for at least two days, citing electrical and plumbing problems in the sprawling complex less than two weeks before the start of the games in Rio de Janeiro.
“Electricity and water is not a good combination,” Kitty Chiller told reporters Sunday, when the village was set to be officially opened for athletes.
Chiller 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.
The 31-building village is expected to house 18,000 athletes and officials at the height of the games. It was not clear how many athletes were housed in the village on Sunday.
This is the latest problem for the games, which have been hit by concern about 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 at the Village. Tancred said 10 of the 31 buildings were determined to be up to living standards.
“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.
“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 Australian athletes due to arrive Monday and 50 on Tuesday would temporarily stay in hotels or other accommodation. 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.”
While admitting there were “some initial operational challenges,” the Canadian Olympic Committee said the team “managed to find good solutions.”
“We are generally satisfied with our village accommodations and thanks to some incredible work by our Mission Team Staff working in close collaboration with Rio 2016, we can say that we expect to be ready to welcome our Team Canada athletes when they arrive in Rio in the coming days on time and at this time, without interruption to our plan,” Chris Overholt, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee said in a statement.
Several teams are hiring tradesmen to fix the problems, and some may look for compensation from organizers.
Italian team leader Carlo Mornati said 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 said in a statement.
The U.S. 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 the AP.
The International Olympic Committee and local organizers held emergency talks Sunday and said athletes with unfinished rooms would “be placed in the best available accommodation in other buildings,” estimating that fixing the problems “will take another few days.”
Local reports said about 5 per cent 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 the 2000 Olympics in Australia. He said he was tempted to put “a kangaroo jumping outside” to make them happy.
The village contains tennis courts, soccer fields, seven swimming pools with mountains and the sea as a backdrop.
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.
New Zealand team leader Rob Waddell said he was disappointed the village wasn’t quite ready “and it hasn’t been easy.”
“Our team has had to get stuck in to get the job done,” Waddell said. “It’s been fair to say there has been more work than we anticipated with the building … but we’ve got it to a space now that it will be just fine for athletes when they turn up.”
New Zealand’s Olympic rowing champion Mahe Drysdale, who said he was the first athlete from any country to enter the village, added facilities were in need of a few “finishing touches.”
“Already taken ownership of the Village being the very first athlete from any country to arrive and get through the gates,” Drysdale said on Instagram. “All is good.
“Few finishing touches still to be made but when you arrive at 5am on opening day, you can’t expect it to be perfect.”
-Global News reporter Nicole Bogart contributed to this report from Toronto.