Olympics: Pollution muddies Rio 2016 waters

Old ships are seen at Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro March 12. Waters polluted by sewage off the coast of Rio remain a concern for organisers of the 2016 Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee insisted on Friday that the sea will be
Old ships are seen at Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro March 12. Waters polluted by sewage off the coast of Rio remain a concern for organisers of the 2016 Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee insisted on Friday that the sea will be safe for competition. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Waters polluted by sewage off the coast of Rio remain a concern for organisers of the 2016 Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee insisted on Friday that the sea will be safe for competition.

Guanabara Bay, which will host the sailing at the Games, has caused consternation amongst some athletes with the water quality condemned as "disgusting" by one sailor.

IOC coordination commission chair Nawal el Moutawakel noted on a sixth visit on Friday that the authorities have pledged to deliver a huge increase in sewage treatment by 2015.

"There will be a seven-fold increase in treated sewage around the Guanabara Bay by 2015," she said, with sailing test events slated for August serving as an environmental catalyst for the city authorities.

Environmental officials said late last year that more than two thirds of sewage goes untreated in the Bay, which will also host marathon swimming - a statistic which left sailors aghast.

British Olympic 2000 silver medallist Ian Barker last year described the site as "disgusting" and "a sewer". Plans to bring new treatment plants on stream have lagged and pollution levels running way above official tolerance levels have not gone unnoticed by water sports federations.

With the test events in the Bay only five months away El Moutawakel would only point to the organisers' planned campaign to boost sewage treatment as a matter of urgency.

"We've been given assurances that Guanabara Bay will be clean for athletes," she said at the end of her team's visit.

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