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Layout ruling threatens Olympic golf course

ESPN staff
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Rio 2016 organisers face a race against time to prepare the Olympic golf course after a court ruled its layout should be modified because of environmental concerns.

Organisers have until September 17 to say if they can accept the proposal and, while work on the course is permitted to continue, no new areas of vegetation can be ploughed through until the second hearing.

Workers have begun putting down grass on the course, with the hope of finishing by the end of the year. That would give the turf two growing seasons to mature.

Golf's return as an Olympic sport in 2016, 112 years after it last featured, was to be a showpiece of the Rio Games. But the course has been plagued by legal challenges over land ownership, questions about its location in a nature reserve, and other delays dating back almost five years.

In a raucous two-hour hearing, Judge Eduardo Klausner heard from environmentalists, biologists and Rio's top environmental official, as well as attorneys from both sides.

"It is in society's interests that the Olympics take place and it's also in society's interests that the environment be preserved," Klausner said. "What has to be observed is legality, and within legality is respect for the environment."

Environmentalists complained that areas of the Atlantic rainforest had been destroyed to make way for the course, but insisted it was not too late to reverse the damage.

But a biologist hired by the course developer said that, because the course layout has been set, it would prove difficult to modify it. The city's environment secretary, Carlos Alberto Muniz, said that 10 days was not enough time to approve changes to the course.

Course architect Gil Hanse has been encouraged in recent months as the grass has been sewn and organisers still hope for a test event in late 2015 or early 2016.

Mario Andrada, a spokesman for the local Olympic organising committee, tried to find an upside, saying: "We are happy the construction on the course has not been stopped."

Activists suggested that financial and real estate interests, and not any real need for a new course, were the behind the push to build the Olympic course. Klausner stated it was not for him to judge the merits of another golf course specifically for the Olympics - Rio already has two.

The developer of the course project is Italy-born Pasquale Mauro, one of the largest landowners in the Barra da Tijuca area.

Plans call for the course, being built in suburban Rio near the heart of most Games' venues, to be made public after the Olympics. However, the egalitarian ambition seems at odds with what's to be built alongside the course.

A complex of 160 luxury apartments in four 20-storey towers is to go up overlooking the course. Prices range from about £1.5 million to $4.3m with completion set for a year after the Olympics end.

Environmental activist Marcello Mello, who has been campaigning against the golf course, hailed the proposal as a victory, though he added "we wanted to see the entire course moved."

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