With the protracted political unrest in Brazil stretching into April, the Zika virus still considered a “public health emergency” by the World Health Organisation and delayed works on infrastructure for the 2016 Olympic Games causing concerns, you may be wondering how rugby sevens will be affected.
Brazil is currently struggling through a recession, while president Dilma Rouseff is facing impeachment over alleged practises to hide the true deficit in the nation’s budget – a process made all the more dicey as a number of individuals in Brazil’s ruling caste are implicated in the nation’s biggest ever scandal, with corruption at state-run oil company Petrobras. The Zika virus, which is linked with shrunken brains in children, is passed on by mosquitos and has caused some panic in Brazil.
With such a backdrop, Rugby World spoke to World Rugby’s head of operations and performance, Mark Egan, to find out how, if at all, the political climate in the region will affect the delivery of sevens at Olympics 2016.
RW: It must be difficult, with financial and political issues in Brazil, to get everything you’d like done in time for Rio 2016. Where are you currently with planning?
Mark Egan: “There are some concerns but we’re confident everything will be delivered on time. The ongoing political stuff, a lot of that is outwith our control so we’re just trying to get on with it. There are certainly challenges and it’s been widely reported that a number of venues are behind schedule. Ours is behind schedule, but it’s a temporary venue so it can still be built in time but we are running late. We have weekly conference calls and site visits now and then, so we know with current time frames the seating bowl will be delivered on time – albeit running late, into the end of June. We hoped to be finished by the end of May. So that leaves less time for contingency planning.
“There’s still transport infrastructure being completed so there are risks with some of that. What we can control and can influence, we’re working very hard in putting a lot of pressure on and we’ve got a very good working relationship with the Rio 2016 people. They are trying to do their very best as well, but a lot of the funding is controlled by the federal government and the city (of Rio). So when you’re not actually in control of your own budget, delivering your own event, it’s difficult. You just have to keep pushing and pushing.”
RW: But it must be hard to talk to the right people at a time like this?
ME: “We obviously deal with the organising committee and we can speak to them any time. Our chairman has picked the phone up to the mayor (of Rio) and has spoken to him directly. That was a number of months ago when we were very concerned about the field being ready for our recent test event.
“We met with the mayor last June – I was there with Bernard Lapasset and Brett Gosper – and the mayor wrote his mobile number down on a piece of paper and gave it to Bernard and said: ‘Call me any time you need to.’ When we were getting quite worried, Bernard called him and things happened. I’m not saying he’s answering his phone every day now! We can also speak to the very top people in the International Olympic Committee and Kit McConnell, our former colleague, is now head of their sports department and we have contact with the right people who can make decisions on our behalf.”
RW: You mentioned the test event, with the South American women’s championship being played at the Deodoro site, where the Games will host sevens. You also had concerns about the field there, but it was eventually available on time. What are the concerns at the site now?
ME: “There were some concerns about the (‘village’ on the Deodoro site). We had all the summer’s international federations with the IOC and Rio 2016 about six weeks ago and they presented plans for the common domain areas at Deodoro Park which weren’t very satisfactory to all and we made our points very clear that this is an Olympic park so it needs to have services and facilities that are commensurate with that status. They’ve taken that on board and issued some new plans recently that are much better. So there will be plenty of concessions to buy drinks, to buy a hot dog. Inside the venue there will be food stalls but it was outside, in the common domain areas where they were looking to save budget but we said: ‘No, you’ve got to prioritise that.’
“They understand what our requirements are and our first priority is to get everything right for the athletes. So that’s the field of play, the warm-up areas, the training venues, the athlete lounge, the medical facilities and services. They are our key priority and we’re pushing hard on those and feel comfortable we’ll have that in place.
“One advantage of our schedule is that, although it is over six days, each day is in two sessions so there is breathing space between sessions. So there will be plenty of time to make adjustments, fix the grass, let it settle overnight etc. We’ve brought in our own grass consultant to work with them and provide advice so we’re confident that will be fine.”
RW: Speaking of health, planning with the Zika virus still prevalent in Brazil must be difficult for all involved in the Olympics?
ME: “We went through a lot of that ourselves, with the test event in Sao Paulo in February, so we are well aware of what the risks are there as well as the precautions people need to take. We issued a whole set of guidelines to participating teams. We’re following the WHO advice on this as well. Now obviously the risk at the time of year the Olympics are on in August is not peak summer, when it’s hot and humid and offers the right conditions for mosquitos to breed, but they are also doing a lot of mitigating work at the venues to make sure there’s no stagnant water etc.
“The Zika virus is what it is, and it’s up to every individual athlete to make the choice of whether they feel it’s safe to go but the advice we’re getting at the moment from the WHO and all the major health bodies is that it is safe to go if you take the right precautions, and we are providing all that advice to the teams as are their national Olympic committees.”
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