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IOC vice-president fears Rio way behind schedule

By Julian Linden

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Increasing concerns about Rio de Janeiro's tardy progress in preparing to host the 2016 Games may have played a decisive role in Tokyo being awarded the 2020 Olympics ahead of Istanbul and Madrid, newly elected International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president John Coates told Reuters on Tuesday.

While Coates acknowledged it was "only a matter of time" before a Muslim country was awarded the biggest extravaganza in sport for the first time, he added that fears about Rio's slow progress could have helped tip the scales in Tokyo's favor.

"There's no doubt about that. All the bid cities had a few issues. Economic, fundamental, issues in Spain, trouble in Turkey a few months ago, then what's happening over the border (in Syria) now, then Fukushima in Tokyo," Coates said in an interview.

"At the end of the day, Tokyo was the best technical bid. It was the best bid for the athletes, the venues were the most proximate to the village, it'll work very well and there was no issue with money.

"But in the back of the minds of some (IOC members) I'm sure, is the fact that we've got a difficult one to deal with Rio so let's make sure with the next one."

Speaking shortly after he was elected unopposed as an IOC vice-president, Coates said Rio was shaping as a difficult Games and facing a mad scramble to be ready.

"We were there last week and action is being taken. The government is supportive, they want this to work, there just has to be a little more co-operation," he said.

"It's not an issue of money, it's just better integration and co-ordination between the ...government and the organizing committee over who is doing what."

Coates described Rio's preparations as being even further behind than Athens, where budget overruns and construction delays prompted the IOC to warn organizers to get a move on.

"This is a little bit more (of a crisis) compared to Athens," Coates said.

The Australian said he feared some venues in Rio may still not be finished in time and some competitors may have to live outside the athletes' village because their venues were too far away.

"In Rio, the issues are being behind in construction, not just venues, some of which are at real risk now of not being ready for test events which is generally a year before; the transport infrastructure, those sorts of issues," Coates said.

"It's going to a very difficult games for some of the sports who have got a fair way to travel from the village.

"With our Australian team, we've just decided that the rowers, the canoeists, sailors, the divers, they are going to be too far away and we'll have to take separate accommodation outside the village for them, so that is not ideal."

Coates said Rio was sure to be the single biggest immediate problem facing the IOC, even more so than Sochi, the host city for next year's Winter Olympics.

Russia's controversial laws on homosexuality have triggered international condemnation, prompting calls for countries to boycott the Games and worry among key Olympic sponsors.

But the IOC has played down concerns, saying it had received written assurances from the Russian government that the issue would not affect anyone at the Games, including participants and spectators.

Even so, it promises to be a baptism of fire for German lawyer Thomas Bach, the former Olympic fencing gold medalist who was elected as the new IOC president on Tuesday.

"His immediate challenge, having regard to our biggest responsibility, is running the Olympic Games," Coates said.

"I think Sochi is in pretty good shape but there's still a fair bit to be done before Rio."

Coates said Bach was the right man to lead the IOC, following in the footsteps of Belgian surgeon Jacques Rogge, whose 12-year tenure ended of Tuesday.

"He'll bring great vision and he'll bring great leadership," Coates said.

"He's absolutely the perfect fit."

(Editing by Tom Bartlett)

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