Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes has awarded the Australian Olympic team the keys to the city and apologised for suggesting he would put a kangaroo in their accommodation after they experienced problems in the Athletes’ Village.
The Village in Barra de Tijuca, due to house 17,000 people during the Games, was described as “neither safe nor ready” by Australian Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller last week.
She highlighted blocked toilets, leaking pipes, exposed wiring and darkened stairwells as the key concerns.
The problems delayed their team’s entry into the Village and Paes inflamed the situation further with his kangaroo comment.
Archery, gymnastics, hockey and shooting athletes eventually moved in yesterday, with Australian officials praising organisers for addressing problems and stating that the situation was progressing.
Chiller and the Australian men’s hockey team have now met with Paes, with the Rio Mayor presenting them with the key to the city.
In return, the Mayor was handed an official Australia team shirt and a boxing kangaroo mascot.
“After many months of banter, we finally met the Mayor face to face with our men’s hockey team which was fantastic, so it was a really nice moment,” said Chiller.
“He presented us with the key and in return we presented him with an Australian team shirt, which I hope he wears – he says Australia is now his second team he is supporting – and a boxing kangaroo.”
Paes also apologised to the team for the problems they experienced in the Village and claimed his kangaroo comment had been a misunderstanding.
A replica kangaroo and an emu has been placed outside Australia’s apartments, although officials insisted this was nothing to do with Paes’ comments, but a tradition also in operation at London 2012.
“This has almost been a diplomatic thing,” Paes said.
“I recognised the problems that we found, I have come here to make a formal apology.
“I did not make fun of the kangaroo, I understand it is a symbol and I have my kangaroo here now.
“I knew that we would have a kangaroo at the front door but people said it was not a polite thing to say, it was a misunderstanding and I am sorry.”
Many concerns are still held by other teams, however, with the head of the Argentina delegation expressing fears, yesterday, that his country’s section had been deliberately sabotaged.
Argentina are fierce sporting and political rivals with Brazil and are often booed when participating in sporting events there.
The team have already reserved separate accommodation elsewhere, should improvements not be made in time.
Sweden’s football team has also reportedly cancelled its stay in the Village.