Judge refuses to block land for Rio Olympic course

Luxury condominiums overlook the area, on left, where the Rio 2016 Olympic golf course is planned to be built in Rio de Janeiro's Barra da Tijuca neighborhood, Brazil. Rio 2016 organizers faced an unexpected challenge to deliver the first Olympic golf tournament in more than 100 years because of a legal dispute over the land where the historic course is supposed to be built.

Luxury condominiums overlook the area, on left, where the Rio 2016 Olympic golf course is planned to be built in Rio de Janeiro's Barra da Tijuca neighborhood, Brazil. Rio 2016 organizers faced an unexpected challenge to deliver the first Olympic golf tournament in more than 100 years because of a legal dispute over the land where the historic course is supposed to be built.

SAO PAULO — Rio 2016 organizers won a legal dispute when a judge decided not to annul contracts and block construction on disputed land for the Olympic golf course.

The judge on Wednesday denied the request made by Elmway Participacoes, the company disputing the ownership of the land, saying that the developer who claims to own it can use the area while a higher court decides on the ownership.

The lawyer for Elmway Participacoes said Thursday that he will appeal.

The judge's decision does not directly affect the legal dispute over the land, which is in the hands of Brazil's Higher Court of Justice and could take months or even years to be decided.

The course construction initially was scheduled to begin in October and finish in time for test events early in 2015. The city has been saying it has no Plan B if the dispute drags on.

The course, to be designed by American Gil Hanse, will host the first Olympic golf tournament in more than 100 years. The sport made its debut at the second modern Olympics, in Paris in 1900, but was removed after the 1904 St. Louis Games.

Elmway Participacoes asked the judge to block the land after the city of Rio de Janeiro said it didn't have any contracts signed over the area even though it announced this year that it reached an agreement with the developer claiming ownership. The city was served a search warrant for the contracts this month but said they don't exist because the golf course will be a private undertaking.

Local Olympic organizers said they expect the contracts for the course to be finalized by the end of June, and the city wouldn't be directly involved even though it was responsible for choosing the land and facilitating the agreement.

The city did not immediately answer a request for comment on the judge's decision.

Judge Joao Felipe Nunes Ferreira Mourao said in his ruling that because there was no legal decision yet on Elmway's attempt to claim ownership of the property, developer Pasquale Mauro was allowed to make deals involving the land, including the one to build the golf course.

Elmway lawyer Sergio Antunes Lima Jr. said the decision contradicted the same judge's previous ruling on the case.

"It's a completely incoherent decision," he said. "This is the same judge who a few days ago said we had the right to see the contracts over the land because there is still a legal dispute on who owns it. It doesn't make sense. We are appealing it today."

The city announced in March the agreement it made with Mauro and a local construction company to have the course built on the land. The city said it would alter some of the building requirements in the area and, in exchange, Mauro and the construction company would pay for the $30 million course.

A good impression in Rio will be critical to keeping golf in the games beyond 2020. A decision on that is scheduled to be made by the International Olympic Committee in 2017.

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