Olympics: IOC official Coates backtracks on Rio attack

IOC vice-president John Coates on Thursday backtracked on his scathing criticism of Rio de Janeiro's Olympic preparations, insisting the city could deliver an "excellent" Games as he moved to defuse tensions.

"Following my statements about the upcoming Games in Rio I want to underline that I still believe that the Rio Organising Committee and the people of Brazil can indeed deliver an excellent Games in 2016," he said in a statement.

His toned-down comments came two days after he criticised the preparations as "the worst that I've experienced" in 40 years of being involved with the Olympics, remarks that attracted worldwide attention and sparked a swift rebuttal from Rio.

Coates said since his initial criticism he had been in contact with IOC executive director Gilbert Felli, a senior troubleshooter sent to the host city last week to help tackle the construction delays and soaring costs that have caused concern.

"He has provided me with a positive update of progress and the support and positive response he is receiving from the organising committee. Time is of the essence but things are moving in the right direction," he said.

"Rio 2016 is addressing the specific concerns of the 17 international federations that were raised with the organisers at a meeting in Turkey in April regarding their venues and the progress overall."

He added that Rio mayor Eduardo Paes, the Brazilian government and the Local Organising Committee all had the IOC's full support in the race to host a successful first Olympics in South America.

"As I said, there is no plan B. We have to make this happen by working together over the next two years," said Coates.

- 'Critical concern' -

The Australian, who has made six visits to Rio as a member of the IOC Coordination Commission overseeing the Games, on Tuesday painted a dire picture of the progress being made, which he said was of "critical concern".

He told a forum in Sydney that the IOC had been forced to take "unprecedented" action, embedding experts in Rio's organising committee to ensure the sporting spectacle proceeds.

"The IOC has formed a special taskforce to try and speed up preparations but the situation is critical on the ground," he said, adding it was "the worst I have experienced".

His comments forced the Games organisers to issue a statement that they would deliver their "historic mission" with IOC support.

"We have a historic mission: to organise the first Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brazil and in South America. We are going to achieve this," the local organising committee said.

"In 2016, Rio will host excellent Games that will be delivered absolutely within the agreed timelines and budgets."

Despite this, worrying signs remain.

Work at the Olympic site in Rio's Deodoro district was due to start last year but was now expected to start in September. And a recent strike by workers at the Barra da Tijuca district in western Rio, which will host a slew of events, also caused delays.

Beyond construction issues, the city must also work on cleansing sewage-contaminated water in Guanabara Bay, which is slated to host sailing and windsurfing vents.

A further embarrassment for Rio has been the closure of the Engenhao stadium, built just seven years ago and set to host athletics but which has structural problems with its roof. There, also, repairs are running behind schedule.

Coates' initial criticisms echoed those levelled at Brazil by FIFA over the World Cup, which is due to start in June. With barely six weeks to go, work still has to be completed at four stadiums.