Four challenging years ahead for Brazilian capital

Four challenging years ahead for Brazilian capital

Four challenging years ahead for Brazilian capital

As the calm settled over London's Olympic Stadium after closing ceremonies on Sunday, the pressure was mounting in Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 games.

When Rio was awarded the games three years ago, it was hailed as a rite of passage for Brazil, Latin America's biggest country and an economy that is now the world's sixth largest.

Along with the soccer World Cup, to be held in Rio and 11 other Brazilian cities in 2014, the Olympics would show that Brazil was finally reaching long-elusive, first-world goals.

But the exuberant celebrations which greeted the decision to award Rio the games are giving way to trepidation in this seaside metropolis of 6.5 million people. Construction delays, cost overruns and overburdened airports, roads and subway lines give locals a sense that Rio, the first South American city to be awarded the Olympics, has a long way to go if is to stage the event as seamlessly as London.

Part of the unease has to do with the sense that Rio, despite its long history as a global attraction, is still playing catch-up with the developed world.

Even after a recent economic boom in Brazil, soaring investment because of the sporting events and an ongoing rush to develop massive new offshore oil fields due south of the city's beaches, Rio remains pock-marked by poor development. "Brazil and Rio have four years to do all those things that have not been done in 400," said Alberto Murray Neto, a Sao Paulo attorney and past member of Brazil's Olympic committee.

The task is huge. Brazil's tourism ministry expects almost 400,000 foreign tourists for the games, in addition to hundreds of thousands of Brazilians who themselves will add to the crush on airports, hotels, roads and other infrastructure. Meanwhile, costs for Olympic projects are soaring, as the investment boom and Brazil's high taxes and labour costs, known locally as the "Brazil Cost", inflate the price of everything from construction cranes to beachside coconuts.

The cost of the games, critics fear, could far exceed initial estimates of 29 billion reais ($14.4 billion). Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, who lands from London with the official Olympic flag on Monday, said in a recent briefing that an updated budget isn't possible yet.

Luis Fernandes, executive secretary of the Brazilian sports ministry, also sidestepped the issue, telling reporters in London on Monday: "We can only disclose the cost of the Olympics when everything is ready.