Thursday 18 January 2018

Chaos reigns as heat and queues ruin opening day for spectators

Organisers were forced to apologise for the chaos at the start of a Games already marred by the worst drugs scandal in sporting history. Photo: Getty Images
Organisers were forced to apologise for the chaos at the start of a Games already marred by the worst drugs scandal in sporting history. Photo: Getty Images

Ben Rumsby

Russia was set to be thrown out of the Paralympics last night, destroying once and for all the credibility of the decision to allow hundreds of its athletes into the Olympics. The news emerged as Rio 2016 got off to a shambolic start yesterday, with fans forced to queue for hours to enter venues.

A controlled explosion was carried out at the men's road race, while disaster was narrowly avoided when a bullet was fired into the media tent at the equestrian centre.

Organisers were forced to apologise for the chaos at the start of a Games already marred by the worst drugs scandal in sporting history.

That scandal was expected to lead today to the International Paralympic Committee announcing a blanket ban on Russians competing at next month's Paralympics after it ruled an investigation which found the country guilty of state-sponsored doping and a corresponding cover-up warranted the ultimate sanction.

The decision followed the outrage provoked by the International Olympic Committee's refusal to expel the rogue nation from the Olympics, something which has led to more than two-thirds of its original delegation competing in Rio.

The IPC opened provisional suspension proceedings against the national Paralympic committee of Russia last month following a report by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, which exposed the scale of Russia's state-sponsored doping regime.

After gathering further evidence from McLaren and giving Russia the opportunity to make its case during a meeting at its headquarters in Bonn on Wednesday, the IPC board decided to impose a suspension that will remain in force during the Paralympics.

Read More: Opening ceremony really shows that Rio can deliver

Its final verdict will be announced by president Sir Philip Craven at a press conference in Rio today.

The bad news at Rio 2016 kept on coming yesterday as angry fans were forced to stand in the scorching heat while security staff struggled to cope with the influx.

The organising committee's director of communications, Mario Andrada, said: "First, we apologise to everybody who is standing in the sun and in line outside the venues. We obviously need to upgrade that part of the Games."

The queues were largely to blame for the huge number of empty seats in virtually all venues, resulting in a flat atmosphere almost across the board.

The controlled explosion at the men's road race and the bullet which plunged through the roof of a tent at the equestrian centre - seemingly having come from an adjacent military base - merely reinforced the sense of chaos.

The first gold medal of the Games was won by a shooter, American teenager Ginny Thrasher, who set an Olympic record in the women's 10-metre rifle event.

Read More: The Olympics are a great way to waste public money

Meanwhile, Olympic rowers could face days of disruption after the International Rowing Federation (FISA) warned the difficult conditions in Rio de Janeiro are forecast to get even worse.

The Rio 2016 regatta got off to a testing start yesterday, with athletes leaving the water complaining about being made to race in windy conditions. Great Britain's Katherine Grainger called it the worst Olympic rowing conditions she had faced, underlined by the Serbian men's pair capsizing in the Lagoa in the heat before.

The duo were given the go ahead to continue in the repechage after not crossing the line, with Matt Smith, executive director of FISA conceding it was a "very difficult" first day.

A drastic overnight change in the weather report caught them cold and, while highlighting concerns about its reliability, the American warned things are likely to get worse.

"We're looking forward at the weather for the coming days and it is, in fact, going to be even worse," Smith, FISA executive director for 21 years, said.

"Tomorrow is similar to today but a bit stronger. Monday is even stronger and Tuesday again as strong as Monday, and Wednesday less strong winds but rain.

"With that in mind, any change, any delays, any postponements, you do that knowing and hoping, but particularly knowing, that the weather looking forward is going to be better and possibly give the athletes a better situation.

"Given the weather forecast we had, we decided to keep going." FISA is now taking a "careful look" at the next steps "We have eight days," Smith said.

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