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Zika, security concerns overblown says Rio Olympics boss

The Olympic games open in less than six weeks away and organizers insist that Rio is ready. The venues will be completed and concerns over Zika and security are overblown they say even as more high-profile athletes say they’re not going. John Yang talks to Sidney Levy, CEO of the Rio 2016 Committee​.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The Summer Olympics are less than six weeks away. And even for the usual drama and tension that often precedes the Games, the road to Rio has been especially rocky.

    John Yang has that story.

  • JOHN YANG:

    For most Olympic host cities, the usual concern is whether all the venues will be ready on time. But Rio presents other worries, like security and crime.

    Earlier today, parts of a body washed up on Copacabana Beach. There's the Zika virus outbreak and whether it poses risks to athletes and visitors, and the state of a heavily polluted bay where some of the competition will take place.

    Earlier this week, I sat down with Sidney Levy, the CEO of Rio's Olympic Organizing Committee.

    Sidney Levy, welcome.

    When the Olympics were awarded in 2009, things were very different in Brazil and in Rio. What assurances can you give the athletes, the spectators, the broadcasters around the world who are going to be watching this that things will be ready to go in less than six weeks?

    SIDNEY LEVY, CEO, Rio 2016 Committee: Well, we are ready.

    Why are we ready? Because we have been working hard for seven years. We have thousands of people working. We spent a lot of money. And we put all the resources, all the creativity we have to deliver great Games, and that's a commitment for the people to do that and for the country. We are doing this for the people of our country.

  • JOHN YANG:

    You say you're ready, you have been working hard, but there are a lot of challenges that are still there, for instance, the Zika virus.

    You have got just recently Rory McIlroy, one of the world's top golfers, saying he's not going to go. You have got other athletes who are expressing concern about going for various reasons. What assurances can you give them that it's not going to be a problem?

  • SIDNEY LEVY:

    Well, the World Health Organization issued a study stating very clearly that the Zika virus is not a threat during the winter months.

    Brazil just entered the winter now. So, the mosquitoes, they die during the winter. It's a proved thing. So we now have — for example, I have 4,000 people working for me in the streets of Rio, in the beaches, in the parks, in T-shirts, not a single case of virus, of Zika today.

  • JOHN YANG:

    But how do you — the concern is still there. You say it's not the mosquito season. You say it's the winter. But the concern is still there.

  • SIDNEY LEVY:

    Well, but I have a friend of mine who went to Rio the other day in long sleeves with the hat, put the spray on, and went down to the beach. And there is thousands of people in the beach naked, as Brazilians go to the beach naked.

    Not a single worry. So we're not feeling that. We're seeing that the rest of the world is much more vocal about that. But we, who are living there, we're not being threatened by the Zika. And so we think this is a little bit out of proportion. And it's one athlete. And we have 11,000 athletes confirmed for Rio.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Huge questions about who's actually going to be in the Games, whether Russia will have a track and field team or not. What cloud does that put over the Olympics?

  • SIDNEY LEVY:

    The commitment is for clean Games. We need to deliver clean Games.

    We have to have zero tolerance for doping. So Brazil built a lab, a brand-new lab, and we brought people in. People were tested. Didn't work well, the first test. We are, in fact, today, bringing international experts to supervisor our work. So we are pretty committed to deliver clean Games, and that's what we're going to do.

  • JOHN YANG:

    But that lab has been suspended by the Anti-Doping Agency.

  • SIDNEY LEVY:

    Because the people we brought in didn't pass the first test. So we're bringing in international supervision right now.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Talk about clean Games, concern about clean water in the bay, where the sailing events are going to be, I think some rowing events are going to be.

    The government said it was going to clean it up. We just had a reporting team down there looking at it. It's still — in the pictures that we have brought back, still raw sewage still being dumped into that bay. I think one health expert said that three teaspoons of water, exposure to three teaspoons of water, 99 percent risk of infection, of illness.

    How can you reassure the competitors who are going to be in that water that they're going to be safe?

  • SIDNEY LEVY:

    We run test events. We ran in 2014, 2015, where we exposed 350 athletes to the same bay. So we ran those. Nobody got sick.

    We have five competition areas around the bay. We are tracking them every day. Four are clean. We — some days yes, some days no. If that doesn't work, closer to the Games, we are going to change the area where the competition goes.

    The further away you go, the cleaner they are. So that's what they are going to do to assure a clean competition.

  • JOHN YANG:

    So you may have to move some events to other parts of the bay in order to get — in order to hit clean water?

  • SIDNEY LEVY:

    Yes. Absolutely, we have to move.

  • JOHN YANG:

    We have less than a minute left. What's keeping you up at night?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • SIDNEY LEVY:

    Very tough job. It's a very tough job.

    It's the combination of all that. I'm sure certain things won't go right, but they need to be small. So how to keep everybody working together — there's 300,000 people working together to deliver the Games, between contractors and — so how to operate that in a seamless fashion, in peace, and it's a very tough job.

  • JOHN YANG:

    But no single issue is — no big issue?

  • SIDNEY LEVY:

    No, I don't have a single issue.

    And I'm pretty confident, because I think this is a unique opportunity. The Olympic Games is a wonderful thing. It's a peace movement. It's where Israelis and Palestinians have breakfast at the same table, so it's a very good thing.

    Rio is a wonderful city. The people are very warm. The nature is wonderful. These two things together, it's once in a lifetime. It won't be repeated so soon. So, I hope people come and enjoy.

  • JOHN YANG:

    We will see in six weeks how it all goes.

  • SIDNEY LEVY:

    Thank you.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Sidney Levy, thanks for being with us.

  • SIDNEY LEVY:

    Thank you.

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