The media got a sneak peak at the "soul" of the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympics with a visit Thursday to the athletes' village, the brand new complex of residential towers where nearly 11,000 athletes and some 6,000 coaches and other handlers will sleep, eat and train during the upcoming games.
Local organizers said the complex, which they described as a "city within the city," is the largest in Olympic history. In addition to the 31 17-story towers, the complex includes a massive cafeteria and gym, a post office, a first aid center and bank.
"This is where the soul of the games will develop," said Mario Andrada, spokesman of the local organizing committee.
While athletes aren't required to stay in the village — and indeed many of the biggest-name stars may end up staying in alternative housing outside the complex — organizers said the village will be the highest-security facility of a games patrolled by 85,000 police and soldiers. That's twice as the number of security forces as at the 2012 games in London.
A double fence will ring the perimeter of the complex, and everyone coming in and out will be subject to airport security procedures, complete with X-rays of all incoming bags and luggage, organizers said.
The idea is that once the athletes and their retinue are inside the security perimeter, "they won't need to leave the village," said Mario Cilenti, the facility's director.
The 3,600 units include two-, three-, or four-bedroom apartments with white tile floors and small balconies, some of which overlook a nearby "favela" hillside slum.
All the bedrooms are doubles, kitted out with two beds that can be extended out to 2.3 meters for the tallest athletes, as well as what appeared to be a disposable wardrobe made out of fabric stretched over a metal frame. In the living room, there are a few basic armchairs and a clothes drying rack. Crucially, the apartments all come with air conditioning units and electric mosquito-repelling apparatuses — aimed at preventing the spread of the Zika virus, which has been linked to a surge in Brazil cases of the birth defect microcephaly.
Cilenti described the set-up as hitting the sweet spot between functionality and austerity — now a guiding principle of games that come as Brazil is immersed in the most severe economic recession in decades.
"It's the basic," Cilenti said, adding, "there are no frills, just the basic necessities."
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has repeatedly stressed that very little public money was spent on the Olympic project, with private companies taking on many of the key construction projects — in exchange for concessions from the city. Case in point, the Olympic village, which was built by a consortium that is renting the complex to Olympic organizers during the games. In exchange for building the complex, City Hall exempted the development from local zoning laws, allowing for taller-than-normal towers.
The developers have long been marketing the apartments to the public at large, with buyers expected to move in after the games.
Officials at Thursday's press visit declined to give any financial details about the Olympic village, explaining only the builders could provide the project's cost or the asking price for the units.
However, the local Olympic committee spokesman acknowledged that with a recession hitting Brazil, sales weren't living up to expectations.
The consortium behind the project, which will be known as "Ilha Pura," or "Pure Island" after the games, is made up of mega-construction companies Carvalho Hosken and Odebrecht. Odebrecht is a key player in the sprawling corruption investigation centered around state-run oil company Petrobras. Graft had long been such an engrained part of the company's modus operandi that it even had a specific department whose mission was to distribute bribes, investigators in the case have said.
Mayor Paes has insisted all Olympic projects are corruption-free.