AP Interview: Rio 2016 CEO on corruption, legacy budget

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Sidney Levy placed his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart to illustrate the size of a book he'd just been reading.

This wasn't a read for pleasure. Levy, the chief executive officer of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, doesn't have time for that.

His daily page-turner is known around Rio's headquarters as the ''Issue Tracker,'' a compendium showing which programs are on track, and which aren't, for South America's first games in just 15 1/2 months.

''There are a lot of moving parts,'' said Levy, an experienced Brazilian businessman and engineer.

He usually shuns publicity. But in an interview with The Associated Press, he touched on corruption to legacy to the organizing committee's tight operating budget.

''I don't talk to the press because I have this very bad habit of answering the question,'' Levy joked.

He runs the organizing committee's 7 billion real ($2.3 billion) operating budget, all private money. This budget is for only running the games themselves.

Separate from this, Brazil is expected to spend about $10 billion in private and public money to build sports and urban infrastructure for the games, which open on Aug. 5, 2016.

Here are some topics Levy took on.

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OLYMPICS - BIG BUSINESS: Levy said he asked Paul Deighton, the CEO of the 2012 London Olympics, about the main problem with the job. In summary he was told: Business is straightforward; organizing an Olympics, less so.

''In business you get the alignment (agreement) pretty fast,'' Levy said. ''Here (Olympics), to get the alignment takes longer to get everybody rowing in the same direction.''

Levy listed some groups that have interests in the games: Athletes, media, Brazil's governments, the International Olympic Committee, sports federations, broadcasters. He could have added more like sponsors, fans, and national Olympic committees.

''The conflict is enormous, but everybody's very well intentioned.''

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NO CORRUPTION: Levy has promised that Brazil will organize clean games, free of corruption. The country has a history of graft. State-run oil company Petrobras acknowledged this week it lost $2.1 billion in a kickback scheme that saw its executives take bribes for awarding inflated contracts. Levy said the organizing committee had already signed contracts worth 4 billion reals ($1.3 billion) without a hint of wrongdoing.

''There are two things we have to do here. One is to deliver the games. And the other is to inspire the country to overcome their shortcomings,'' Levy said. ''Things like corruption, the only thing we can do is be an example ... without a single story in the crime section.''

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WHY SLOW START? IOC vice president John Coates a year ago called Rio's preparations the ''worst'' in memory. Levy partly blamed last year's World Cup.

''First, there was an overlap with the World Cup and us. The government, of course, had the World Cup to deliver,'' Levy said.

''The second thing is, John Coates exaggerated dramatically. That's my opinion. It was not such a huge turnaround we did here. We get the impression from the outside there was a radical turnaround, which in my view didn't happen.''

Has Rio been judged too harshly?

''No, I don't think so. It's been pretty fair and square how we've been judged (on) the things that don't work, the things that work.''

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TIGHT BUDGET: Levy said the organizing committee decided against taking government money to boost its $2.3 billion budget. He said it turned down a government stipend of $700 million, meaning all organizing committee income is from the IOC, and the sale of local sponsorships, merchandise, and tickets.

''We decided not to take any government money,'' he said. ''That was a very risky decision; a pretty tough call. I don't regret it, but that made our life much harder.''

Levy said the government has picked up many costs. The national government will handle ''100 percent of security,'' he said. Things like sports equipment, computers, and radios are being covered by government budgets.

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LEGACY: Levy defended the Olympics as a catalyst to drive Rio's development. He said a subway line extension and high-speed bus lines were ''moral expenditures'' that will benefit all citizens of Rio.

Some critics say holding the Olympics will only drive up the cost of what's needed.

''Why do you clean your house?'' Levy asked. ''You clean your house every day, but when the visitors come, you clean it better.''

He was asked if more public money should have been spent to improve Rio's sanitation. Rio dumps much of its untreated sewage into surrounding waters, including venues for sailing, rowing, and canoeing.

He indicated only about 1.5 billion reals ($500 million) in public money would have been available for this. That money went to build a cluster of sports venues in a rundown part of northern Rio.

''This is a very, very small amount. This won't solve, won't even touch the sanitation issue.''

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CLEAN, FIT AND FUN: Levy's motto is: Clean, fit, and fun.

Clean means no corruption. Fit means spending what's appropriate. And fun?

''This is Rio de Janeiro. If you don't enjoy this, what are we doing here?''

Asked about his future, he broke into a hearty laugh.

''You know, I'm not a politician. Back to business. That's for sure. No sports. No politics.''

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Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

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