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Tainted legacy? Olympic organisers defend use of Havelange Stadium

João Havelange is the former FIFA president now at the heart of a bribery scandal.

Image: Ricardo Moraes/AP/Press Association Images

RIO 2016 CHIEF executive Leonardo Gryner has insisted that holding the Olympic athletics competition in a stadium named for bribe-tainted Joao Havelange wouldn’t be a black eye for the Games.

“I don’t think the naming of a stadium after Joao Havelange will be a bad thing for the Games in Rio,” said Gryner as he had to field several questions on the issue at a press conference to discuss Rio’s plans for its role in the London Olympics closing ceremony on Sunday.

“Whatever he did wrong, he was punished by the justice and did his penalty.”

Gryner also noted that it wasn’t up to Rio organizers to name the stadium, which was named by the city for the former FIFA president who was found by a Swiss court to have pocketed at least 1.5m Swiss francs (€1.3m) in bribes.

Havelange, who was instrumental in bringing the Olympics to Rio de Janeiro and to South America for the first time, remains “a great legend” in Brazilian sports, said Gryner.

Prior to becoming the powerful head of world football’s governing body and eventually an International Olympic Committee member, Havelange competed at two Olympic Games, in 1936 as a swimmer and in 1952 in water polo.

Like the late duo of Juan Antonio Samaranch in the IOC and Italian Primo Nebiolo in athletics he is credited with modernising and commercialising sports in the 20th century.

When first questioned on the stadium name topic, Gryner tried to sidestep the question by saing only: “We are very proud of all our sportsmen,” finally adding: “I think I’ve said before that we are very proud of what Mr. Havelange has done for sports worldwide. For what he did wrong, he was punished.”

On other subjects, Gryner said Rio 2016 organizers had benefited greatly from London organisers’ willingness to share information and experience.

He hoped they could improve on a few issues, such as the problem of empty seats at some venues early in the Games, but said that was a problem that was bound to afflict every Olympics to a degree.

London organisers were excoriated in the press over empty seats in some premium venues, especially since many people who tried to obtain tickets were unable to.

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Gryner said it wasn’t the fault of the London ticketing system, but added Rio had a plan in mind to deal with the problem of those who purchase tickets but don’t show up, especially in the early days.

“We hope we’ll do better than London,” he said. “I’m sure we won’t solve all the problems and 2020 will do better than we did.”

Overall, Gryner said, Rio organizers had been tremendously impressed with the detailed preparation of London organizers, which had contributed to a successful Games.

“The main thing is to be prepared in advance,” he said he’d learned in London. “The level of preparation is very impressive. We want to take that back to Brazil.”

- © AFP, 2012

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