RIO DE JANEIRO – The 10,500 athletes at next year’s Olympics will feel first-hand the deep budget cuts buffeting the Rio de Janeiro Games: they won’t have air conditioning in their bedrooms unless someone pays for it.
Charging for air conditioning is part of what games organizers call finding “fat” and cutting it.
Mario Andrada, spokesman for the Rio Games, said in an interview that organizers have found up to 2 billion reals ($520 million) that needed to be cut as part of balancing the operating budget of 7.4 billion reals ($1.9 billion).
Asked specifically about the need for AC in the bedrooms, Andrada replied: “We don’t think it’s going to be critical (to have air conditioning) there.”
Though the games take place in the South American winter — Aug. 5-21, 2016 — it could still be hot. This year on Aug. 19 the temperature soared to 35.4 degrees C (95.7 degrees F).
Andrada said national federations might pay for some athletes, though it’s unclear if poorer federations could handle the added costs.
Rio Olympic organizers are being hit by a deep recession, a steep fall in the value of the local currency against the dollar, and 10 per cent inflation. There is also a spreading corruption scandal involving state-run oil giant Petrobras that has been part of triggering impeachment proceedings against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
This wasn’t the mood in 2009 when Rio won the bid, setting off wild celebrations on Copacabana beach.
“We are discussing with our partners, especially the IOC, what kind of levels of service we can reduce,” Andrada said.
Rio officials say most of the cuts involve “behind-the-scenes” facilities, unseen on television or by ticket-paying customers. This could involve organizers buying cheaper products and services, reducing signage, or using more temporary structures.
“It (cutting) hasn’t been painful so far,” Andrada said. “It will be painful from now on because we need to finish the process.”
The games were to have 5,000 employees when they open in eight months. That’s been scaled back by 500.
“Some of them are going to be unhappy,” Andrada said. “That’s normal.”
The cuts will be welcomed by those asking why Brazil, with poor schools, under-funded hospitals and high taxes, has spent more than $20 billion to organize last year’s World Cup and the Olympics.
The image of thrift suits International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who has tried to change a perception the games are too expensive and benefit only a few.
In a reply to an email, the IOC congratulated organizers “for working toward a balanced budget.”
The IOC contributes about $1.5 billion to the operating budget.
Fernando Meirelles, the famous Brazilian filmmaker of “City of God” who is working on the opening ceremony, accepts the austerity.
“A country that doesn’t have basic sanitation can’t spend the fortune that was spent in London or Beijing,” he said.
Andrada said the cuts would not affect the sports themselves.
“As long as we don’t compromise the games, the quality of the competitions, the experience of the public — then we have to look for efficiencies,” he said.
The operating budget is for running the games themselves with income from the IOC, marketing, tickets sales and local sponsorship sales.
A separate capital budget of about 39 billion reals ($10 billion), a mix of public and private money, is being used to build sports venues, roads and other facilities needed to stage the games.
Andrada said a $700 million “contingency fund” backed by the federal government in the original bid document could still be used as a bailout.
The IOC requires host countries to make up for any budget shortfalls.
“We haven’t been told that they (government) won’t put up the money,” Andrada said. “The $700 million is a commitment the government made in the contract, so it’s for the government to decide.”
Unrelated to budget cuts, Andrada said organizers had yet to sign a contract with a private energy company to supply electricity for the games, meaning that power may come only from temporary generators.
“We do have a concrete plan,” Andrada said. “The plan is being executed but we haven’t got the final solution for the problem.”
Andrada termed using only generators the “B Plan” and said the responsibility to provide energy belonged to the national government.
The IOC said “we expect the Brazilian organizers to deliver” on energy provision.
Andrada acknowledged delays were tied to Brazil’s bureaucracy, particularly with the politics and corruption scandals upstaging the Olympics.
“This is a problem that should have been fixed a while ago,” he said. “We will have energy. Don’t get scared.”
Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP