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Australia demand smoking ban be enforced after fire

Kitty Chiller (2nd R), Chef de Mission for Australia at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, leads a news conference with boxers (L-R) James Whateley, Daniel Lewis, and Shelley Watts, in which she described the problems that her country's delegation encountered with the athletes' housing in Rio de Janeiro, July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Rickey Rogers
Kitty Chiller (2nd R), Chef de Mission for Australia at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, leads a news conference with boxers (L-R) James Whateley, Daniel Lewis, and Shelley Watts, in which she described the problems that her country's delegation encountered with the athletes' housing in Rio de Janeiro, July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Rickey Rogers

By Alan Baldwin

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The Australian Olympic Committee has demanded Rio 2016 organisers enforce a strict ban on smoking in the athletes' village after saying a fire in the basement of their building was probably caused by a cigarette tossed into rubbish.

Delegation head Kitty Chiller said it was also "completely unacceptable" that a previously tested fire alarm system had been switched off at the time without the Australians being informed.

The incident, which filled the stairwells with smoke on Friday evening, came after the Australians and several other teams had complained about unfinished and dirty rooms before moving in.

"The fire did seem to be accidental, probably a cigarette thrown into rubbish in the building," Chiller told a news conference on Saturday.

"We have asked Rio 2016 to enforce a very strict non-smoking policy. Every athletes’ village in the Olympic Games should be non-smoking so we’ve asked for that to be enforced because at the moment it’s not."

A spokesman for the local organisers confirmed that a discarded cigarette butt was suspected.

Firemen were stationed on every floor, with security guards in the basement, as a precaution after the scare but Chiller said such measures would not continue.

Chiller said she had spoken to several other national committees warning them to check basements for refuse, and the matter would be raised at a meeting of team chiefs on Sunday.

She said organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had been "extremely responsive" and had promised a full report by Saturday evening.

An investigation on Friday night had already established that the fire alarm system was turned off for several hours pending work on the next door building occupied by Germany and Belgium.

"We’ve now absolutely insisted that that fire alarm system is never deactivated again," said Chiller.

The Australians had complained last weekend about exposed wiring and blocked toilets, saying accommodation in the village was "not safe or ready" for the Games which open on Aug. 5.

Organisers then deployed a task force of 600 workers to tackle repairs.

Friday's scare saw some 100 athletes and officials evacuated under an emergency response plan, but some still managed to sleep through it.

Shooter Warren Potent, a 2008 bronze medallist in the 50m rifle prone category, confessed he was one of them and made light of the situation.

"They had the protocol in place but that doesn’t actually work when I’m asleep and the phone’s on silent," he told reporters. "At least now I can say I’ve survived a burning building."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)

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