Atlantic Ocean for sailors in Rio?

Organisers have held test events in Rio's Guanabara Bay but there is no guarantee that the scenic venue will be deemed suitable for sailors when the Olympic Games begins next year. The polluted water and floating garbage pose problems.
Organisers have held test events in Rio's Guanabara Bay but there is no guarantee that the scenic venue will be deemed suitable for sailors when the Olympic Games begins next year. The polluted water and floating garbage pose problems.PHOTO: AGENCE-FRANCE PRESSE

RIO DE JANEIRO • Olympic sailing events could be held in the Atlantic Ocean after trash in Rio de Janeiro's polluted Guanabara Bay forced organisers to switch venues for a sailing test event for the Games.

The men's and women's events in the 470 two-person dinghy last Friday had to be moved from the Bridge course because of "objects in the water", the International Sailing Federation (Isaf) said.

The events were initially moved to another course, Niteroi. But a lack of wind there forced organisers to move them yet again, to the Naval School course.

In all, there are six sailing courses planned for next year's Olympics.

Three are inside the bay and three on the Atlantic Ocean.

But the postcard-perfect backdrop of the bay has been overshadowed by pollution concerns.

Huge amounts of raw sewage from the Rio urban area pour into the bay each day, along with floating garbage, discarded furniture, dead animals and other debris.

"If we can't get the water to a level, then we'll move it outside (to the Atlantic) - for sure," said Peter Sowrey, Isaf's chief executive officer.

"If we can't get it clean, we've got to do something."

With less than a year to go until the Games open on Aug 5, city officials have acknowledged they will not be able to keep their initial promise to clean up 80 per cent of the pollution.

That has raised health fears for athletes and concerns that floating trash could disrupt events.

That happened during another test event on Saturday when two Brazilian sailors' Nacra 17 boat tipped over after their rudder snagged on a garbage bag.

Authorities have sent 20 boats to scoop up the debris and installed barriers around the courses to try to hold the trash at bay.

Organisers maintain that the sailing competitions would not end up being relocated away from the bay.

"All six courses were tested successfully this week. We are working together on plan A," Rio Olympic committee spokesman Philip Wilkinson said.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Atlantic Ocean for sailors in Rio?'. Print Edition | Subscribe