RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A near-diplomatic incident — as Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes termed it — came to an end on Wednesday ahead of the Olympics.
The Australian delegation gave the mayor a tiny “boxing kangaroo” doll as the sign of a truce. It also said it’s now happy with its rooms at Rio’s Olympic Athletes Village.
The 700-member delegation refused to check in three days earlier because of water and gas leaks, electrical shorts, malfunctioning toilets and general filth.
The unfinished village, built at a cost of about $1.5 billion, marks the first organizational crisis of South America’s first Olympics, which open in just over a week. Attention now shifts to dozens of venues, which will be filling up in the next few days with thousands of athletes hoping to practice. Problems here could make village problems seems small.
“It was almost a diplomatic thing,” the mayor said, speaking to Australian officials and members of the men’s field hockey team at the 31-building village.
Paes apologized and acknowledged Australia’s “was the worst building.”
“Australia was right,” he said. “It was not in good shape. That was a mistake of the organization. What we have to do now is go ahead and organize it. They’ve got their building now, and I hope things go well from now on.”
As his offering, Paes gave delegation head Kitty Chiller the keys to the city, and a doll representing the official mascot Vinicius.
Australian officials said about 50 athletes were living in the village on Wednesday accompanied by almost 100 additional staff members.
Rio organizers said 2,902 people occupied the village on Wednesday — 849 of them athletes.
The village will accommodate 18,000 athletes and staff at its peak, but many delegations are still away at private training venues for a few more days. The crunch should come next week in the run-up to the opening ceremony on Aug. 5.
After battling leaks for a week, Australia complained openly on Sunday. Dozens of other delegations also flagged up problems about their rooms, with many calling in their own workmen to fix the problems.
The complaints led to hundreds of cleaners, plumbers, safety inspectors and electricians working 24-7 to resolve the issues.
On Wednesday, Brazilian labor inspectors said they would fine the Rio organizing committee nearly $100,000 (about 315,000 reals) for hiring workers without proper contracts required by law. Inspector Hercules Terra told the Globo network that about 630 workers did not enjoy benefits that protect them from workplace injuries.
The same inspector also said the organizing committee was going to be punished for withholding documents that would show how the employees were hired.
Paes was asked four times about who would pay any bills run up by teams trying to fix their own problems. He walked away without answering, which Chiller also noted.
“He left immediately after that question,” she said. “We’ll sort all that out afterwards.”
Chiller promised to speak out again if things are not ready.
“Everything that we’ve ever said, and everything I will continue to say is about making sure that we have the best possible environment for our athletes,” she said. “And we’ll stop at nothing to ensure that we get that. Whatever that takes.”
Adriana Gomez Licon contributed to this report.
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