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IOC vice-president Coates backtracks on Rio criticism Pyeongchang on track for 2018

SYDNEY, May 1, (AP): A day after describing preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympics as “the worst I have experienced,” International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates says he’s confident local organizers and “the people of Brazil can indeed deliver excellent games.” Coates, who has visited Rio six times as part of the IOC Coordination Commission which monitors preparations, said in a statement dated April 30 that organizers “recently took a number of measures designed to make sure that we can together deliver a great Games ... (and) a lasting legacy for the people of Rio and Brazil.” Coates launched an unusually blunt warning during an Olympic forum in Sydney on Tuesday, saying the IOC had “become very concerned” because the Brazilians are behind “in many, many ways” and are in worse shape than Greek organizers were in preparing for the 2004 Olympics.

“And this is against a city that’s got social issues that also have to be addressed; a country that’s also trying to deal with the FIFA World Cup coming up in a few months,” Coates said on Tuesday, highlighting the problem-plagued preparations for the World Cup that kicks off in June. Two years out from the Rio Olympics, the situation on the construction of games venues is just as bleak. Work hasn’t begun at Deodoro, a complex for eight Olympics sports venues, and the course that will host golf’s return to the Olympic program for the first time in more than a century doesn’t have grass yet. Water pollution is a big worry for sailing and other sports. The IOC released a statement trying to defuse the tension following Coates’ comments.

It mentioned working “with our partners” in Rio on measures to “support the games,” including establishing joint task forces, a local construction manager and a high-level decision-making body “bringing together” the IOC, the government and all key partners of the project. The IOC said there would be more “regular visits” to Rio by executive director Gilbert Felli, the senior troubleshooter sent to the city last week as part of a series of actions to tackle the delays. “Mr. Felli has received a very positive response on the ground in the past few days, and a number of recent developments show that things are moving in the right direction,” the IOC said. “Now is a time to look forward to work together and to deliver great games.” Rio organizers responded to Coates’ initial comments by saying they know what needs to be done, and cited “unequivocal signs of progress” recently in the city’s preparations.

The IOC is convinced that preparations for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang are on track, in contrast with concerns over the chronic construction delays for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro Gunilla Lindberg, who led the International Olympic Committee’s coordination commission on a three-day inspection visit of the 2018 host city, said a large amount of work had been achieved since the panel’s previous visit in June last year. “The 2018 Games are on the right track but it is clear that much work remains,” Lindberg said Thursday. “With only four years to go until the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games begin, it was important for the commission to be able to survey the progress being made on the different venues. We are pleased to see that work on key sites like the sliding center and coastal Olympic Village has begun.”

Russian organizers were under intense pressure to finish venues and accommodations until right before the Sochi Winter Olympics and Brazilian organizers are lagging well behind schedule for the Rio Games. Representatives of South Korea’s federal, provincial and city governments attended the three-day meetings in Pyeongchang, along with international and national winter sports federations. The delegation toured the sites of competition and non-competition venues in the mountain and coastal clusters, including Olympic villages and media facilities. “The third coordination commission meeting was the first one after Sochi, and it was especially meaningful because we had the high-level representatives of the international winter sports federations with us this time,” local organizing committee president Kim Jin-sun said.

“This year is a big turning point for us. We must establish a solid framework.” The next coordination commission visit to Pyeongchang is scheduled for November. The start of the inspection visit to South Korea on Tuesday was overshadowed by IOC vice president John Coates’ blunt warning for Rio during an Olympic forum in Sydney, when he said Brazil’s preparations were “the worst I have experienced.” Coates later backed down, saying organizers “recently took a number of measures designed to make sure that we can together deliver a great games ... (and) a lasting legacy for the people of Rio and Brazil.”

The Afghanistan Olympic Committee has elected entrepreneur Fahim Hashimy as president in a move it describes as its first step as a democratic, independent body. The Afghan NOC released a statement Thursday saying Hashimy had been unanimously elected. Previously, the Afghan committee came under the jurisdiction of the Afghanistan National Sports Directorate and had limited access to international competition. The Olympic Council of Asia pushed for the independent elections in a bid to bring the country in line with the statutes for full IOC members.

“This is an extraordinary moment for the Olympic Movement in Afghanistan,” the 33-year-old Hashimy said. “It is a new day for our National Olympic Committee and the democratic processes of our country. “The people of Afghanistan believe in the Olympic Movement. We believe in the positive, life changing opportunities the Olympics brings to our people. We believe in peace through sport.” Hashimy said Afghanistan was looking forward to full participation in the Youth Olympic Games at Nanjing, China in August and the Asian Games at Incheon, South Korea starting in September. Hashimy is the chief executive of the Hashimy Group, which has interests in media, aviation, mining and construction. Afghanistan has sent athletes to recent Olympics and has earned two bronze medals. Rohullah Nikpai won the country’s first Olympic medal when he finished third in his taekwondo division in Beijing in 2008. Nikpai won another bronze in taekwondo in London in 2012.

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