Week-in-Review: Another Olympics, Another Rushed Construction Job

Olympics organizers on Monday rushed to fix bad wiring, broken plumbing and other problems in the athletes’ village in Rio de Janeiro after several foreign teams complained that accommodations were dirty and in disrepair less than two weeks before the start of the Games.

Entirely Expected

Here at MetalMiner, we often write about the quirks of Olympic construction and the graft, price inflation and other things that come along with them. We also document how major steelmakers often set up new operations just to provide products for events such as World Cups and Olympics. Brazil is definitely the rule and not the exception.

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We even scraped together a World Cup of industrial metals to see which metals were gaining the most from World Cup demand back in 2014 when Brazil was rushing to get stadiums, athlete accommodations, hotels and businesses done in time … as opposed to today when just Rio is rushing to get stadiums, athlete accommodations, hotels and businesses done in time.

Can we do Olympic construction better? Choosing cities years ahead just makes prices escalate faster anymore. Photo: Jeff Yoders

Why isn’t Olympic construction ever done on time, on budget and up to the quality standards that International Olympic Committee member-countries demand anymore? Sochi wasn’t smooth by any stretch of the imagination but, aside from the study in hubris that was Bob Costas’ pink-eye broadcasts, it’s looking like Rio’s problems dwarf Sochi’s. Yes, Rio, you made Sochi look good. Why is each Olympics worse than the last? And more costly?

Blame It on Rio

The Australian contingent called its apartments “uninhabitable” after arriving to find many problems and relocated to available hotels as soon as they got there, according to awesomely named Aussie delegation head Kitty Chiller.

To get things moving, go-getter delegation Italy hired its own electricians, plumbers and construction workers so apartments could be “brought up to standard as soon as possible,” according to the head of their delegation Carlo Mornati.

It’s hard not to fault the IOC for choosing Rio de Janeiro in the first place. Casey Barrett of Swimming magazine wondered if there has ever been a less-prepared Olympic host, and that includes Athens, Greece in 2004 and Sochi. Some public health experts say that the Zika virus, alone, is reason enough to move or postpone the games.

Brazil won the right to host the games in 2009, beating out other prospective hosts Chicago (home of MetalMiner and much of the SpendMatters Network), Madrid and Tokyo. Rio wowed the IOC with a plan to organize the Games at a cost of $14.4 billion which it said could be facilitated by being able to hold all sport events (except football) inside the city.

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Brazil has already spent $11 billion for the games and will likely blow past its bid price. Since 2009 Brazil’s economy has seen its bottom drop out, it has become the epicenter of the deadly spread of Zika and Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, has been impeached. Whether it’s bad luck or bad planning, all of the steel, copper, aluminum and other metals being used to hastily patch together Olympic apartments are all being paid for at a premium. Any of the cost savings associated with early purchases are now gone.

Maybe some future city will find a way to do an Olympics better. We doubt it.

One Comment

  • I think the eventual answer will be to do it like so many other very expensive events and ensure the repeat use of facilities. Like Motor Racing Grand Prix the Olympics could be held at 4 different cities in rotation. I guess there would be one in US one in Europe one in China and the last one in Russia if they are capable of controlling their drug problem. In this way there would always be a credible threat to any host that if they are not really ready on time the games can be moved. This still puts them 16 years apart but there might be enough other events to keep the facilities ticking over. One problem is that in 16 years people would imagine that the facilities were too old fashioned and still squander a fortune on new ones or refurbishment.

    Imagine if we all spent $14B on decent accommodation for refugees with working sewage systems and clean water and education for the kids.


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