By Barry Janoff
July 7, 2016: With the Summer Games less than a month off, host nation Brazil and host city Rio de Janeiro are dealing with a plethora of challenges, including financial woes, the Zika virus, water pollution, security issues and mass transportation hurdles.
But according to Brazil’s recently appointed Sport Minister, Leonardo Picciani, the nation and the city will be ready to welcome the world with open arms and problems well in hand.
Picciani addressed many of the key issues facing Rio as it readies to host its first Olympics from Aug. 5-21, followed by the Paralympics Sept. 7-18.
"There has been a 90% decrease in (reported) Zika cases in Rio de Janeiro since January, and come (the start of the Games in) August the incidence rate should be close to zero," said Picciani today (July 7) through a translator during a global media conference call. "There were 7,000 cases reported in January, only 700 in May.
"The fight against the Zika virus has been a priority for Brazil. We don't expect any sports or athletes to be at risk of Zika contamination during the Games," said Picciani.
Olympic and Paralympic Village will house some 17,000 athletes, with countless coaches and family members, in addition to the estimated 500,000 fans and tourists expected to descend on the city. Which makes security a top priority, as well.
“We are convinced (that) we will have a completely safe and secure Games because all preparations have been made," said Picciani.
According to officials, the security force is expected to reach 85,000, including 47,000 police officers and some 41,000 soldiers.
"Our minister of justice and minister of defense have been working with the Federal police, the Armed Forces and the state police of Rio," said Picciani. "They have taken all the required measures and followed all the proper protocols to be sure the Olympic Games are held in a safe and secure manner.
"We are convinced that we will have a complete state of secure holding of the Games because all of the preparations have been made," said the sport minister.
According to Picciani, more than 100 nations have collaborated with security officials in Brazil and Rio via security officials from their own countries to assist with Olympic-related security measures.
"It is important to remember that Rio has a long history of hosting major events, including the finals of the World Cup (2014), the final match of the Confederations Cup (2013), Pope Francis’ visit (2013) and Rio +20 (2012). There never was any serious incident, security-wise," said Picciani.
Regarded the numerous reports of water pollution in Rio, including bodies of water in which Olympic events would be conducted, Picciani said, “The areas where Olympic competitions will be held have been decontaminated.
"We will proceed with decontamination work, not just because of the Games, but to improve the lives of those who live or visit the Olympics host city," he said.
Of utmost concern to Olympic officials and athletes has been the status of the Brazil Anti-Doping Lab, which had its operations suspended last month by the World Anti-Doping Agency for not meeting international standards. If the lab is not re-opened for the Games, samples would have to be sent out of the country for testing.
"We expect the Brazil Anti-Doping Lab to be re-accredited before the beginning of the Olympic Games," said Picciani. "A WADA commission is currently inspecting the lab.
“The cause of the issue that led to the suspension has been identified and corrected, so we do have the expectation WADA will re-accredit it for the Olympic Games," he said. "It is certainly ready for the task at hand and ready for the Games.
"They have taken all the required measures and followed all the proper protocols to be sure the Olympic Games are held in a safe and secure manner."
"Of course we always need to check and double-check. This is the main goal. To be sure that athletes see that their results are accurate."
Regarding the sale of tickets, Picciani said that the Rio Organizing Committee for the 2016 Games released figures showing that 70% of tickets had been sold. “We are certain that the Games will be a success,” said Picciani.
The Rio Organizing Committee also today unveiled a strangely-yet-aptly titled commercial, "Keep Calm And Come To Rio," in which locals and tourists openly talk about the Zika virus, financial problems and other situations but conclude, "It's a beautiful city. It's fine for tourists to come here."
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