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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Organizers of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 hope they've turned a corner in preparations, spurred on by Brazil's better-than-expected World Cup and the role of IOC-appointed troubleshooter Gilbert Felli.
They'll learn where they stand when International Olympic Committee inspectors begin a three-day visit from Monday, checking venues and gauging tight deadlines with South America's first games less than two years away.
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes and Felli have acknowledged that the buoyant World Cup should boost confidence and help shield Rio's Olympics from the type of harsh criticism that World Cup preparations received.
"It's always going to be a good asset after everything said about Brazil's World Cup," Paes said recently. "It's always going to be a good excuse for us."
Paes said last week that some of Rio's problems were related to its Latin image. He also blamed some of it on what he called the country's "inferiority complex."
"It's a little bit of having a bad reputation," he said. "It is harder ... when you have a bad reputation. You have to prove yourself several times to show that you are doing things right. The good reputation of the English helped them to organize the London Olympics."
In April, IOC vice president John Coates called Rio's preparations the "worst" in memory. Other IOC members said the same thing, prompting the IOC to send in Felli.
Coates, a member of the inspection team, has recanted, and last month the Australian said preparations were "much, much better."
Here are some issues that are sure to come up at the closed-door meetings:
— a progress report on the second large cluster of venues called Deodoro in northern Rio, a run-down area where work began only a few months ago
— plans to deal with a possible shortage of hotel rooms
— an update on the Olympic golf course and the status of a lawsuit against the city of Rio and the course developer over alleged violations of environmental laws governing a nature reserve at the site
— efforts to reduce the flow of raw sewage and floating rubbish at the sailing venue in Guanabara Bay
— progress on a subway-line extension from central Rio to Barra da Tijuca, site of the Olympic Park
— water pollution in the lagoon abutting the Olympic Park, where untreated sewage is believed to have killed thousands of fish last month
— spending on games preparations, a mix of public and private money expected to reach about $20 billion
Felli, who has described some deadlines as "tense, very tense," visits Rio regularly and has become the face of the games with Paes. He recently retired as Olympic Games executive director.
The Swiss has helped organizers communicate a clearer message, pulling together different levels of government and putting much in the hands of Paes.
The IOC Coordination Commission is headed by former Olympic hurdles champion Nawal El Moutawakel. Christophe Dubi, who has taken over from Felli as executive director, will also be in Rio.
The Rio Olympic venues are spread across four clusters and could present transportation nightmares in a city cut up by mountains, tunnels and poor roads. Moving people around will depend on new high-speed bus lanes and the subway-line extension.
Asked about preparations, Paes summed it up this way: "Things are going pretty well. This doesn't mean it is easy, that it is not a challenge. Life is hard."
Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP
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