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Friday 23 February 2018

Activists disrupt IOC's Rio meeting

A protester holds a banner outside the hotel where the International Olympic Committee was meeting in Rio (AP)
A protester holds a banner outside the hotel where the International Olympic Committee was meeting in Rio (AP)

Environmental activists have burst into the lobby of a luxury hotel on Rio's Copacabana Beach where IOC officials were meeting in a protest against ecological destruction related to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Security guards tried to block the small group of activists, but at least two women managed to push their way into the hotel as IOC president Thomas Bach was chairing a meeting of his executive board on another floor.

One of the activists, who grabbed an Olympic flag and tried to wave it, shouted about the destruction of a nature preserve in western Rio where the Olympic golf course is being built. She also screamed about continued delays in cleaning up the city's polluted waterways.

She blew on a whistle as security guards tried to restrain her. Other protesters outside the hotel held banners, including one saying "Ecological Holocaust. IOC go home." Another banner read: "Thomas Bach is a nature killer!"

The scene was witnessed by dozens of journalists from around the world waiting for the start of a news conference by Mr Bach.

Jean Carlos Novaes, who eventually reached the hotel lobby, said he represented the environmental group Golf for Whom. Other protesters said they represented a group called Occupy Golf and Occupy Marina da Gloria, the venue for Olympic sailing.

Mr Bach, speaking afterwards and peppered with questions about the environmental impact on several venues and delays in cleaning up Rio's waterways, insisted without the games, nothing would be done.

"All of this without the games would not have happened," Mr Bach said. "So again, it's clear evidence what a positive legacy these games are leaving in the infrastructure, the social and in the environmental areas."

Minutes after the protest started, about a dozen police formed a smaller line just outside the hotel door.

"We hope the foreign journalists inside will wake up over this, to know what is going on in our city," said Thiago Schuina, 31, who said he worked as a geologist.

Mark Adams, the head of communications for the IOC, came down to the hotel lobby and talked through an interpreter for several minutes with the whistle-blowing protester, who identified herself only as Sandra. She said she was a teacher.

"We're not against the Olympic games," she repeated. "This is about the golf course. We have two golf courses. We don't need a third."

Mr Adams repeated several times: "We have to agree to disagree," as he listened to the woman. He offered to be in contact with her.

Rio is spending about 14 billion US dollars (£9 billion) for the Olympics - a mix of private and public money. Brazil spent 12 billion US dollars (£7.7 billion) on last year's World Cup, expenditures that are looming larger as Brazil teeters on the brink of recession with the local currency having lost 35% of its value in the last few months.

Press Association

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