Olympics: Rio 2016 organisers 'extremely concerned' over sick sailor

People navigate on their boats as they protest against pollution in Guanabara Bay in Rio on Aug 8, 2015.
People navigate on their boats as they protest against pollution in Guanabara Bay in Rio on Aug 8, 2015. REUTERS

BERLIN (REUTERS) - Organisers of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics said on Saturday they were "extremely concerned" after German sailor Erik Heil fell ill following his third place at the test event there.

Heil, who is being treated in a Berlin hospital for several infections, said he was convinced they were caused by the polluted waters, piling more pressure on organisers to secure the safety of the athletes at next year's Olympic sailing, swimming and triathlon events.

"We were extremely concerned when we learned of the hospital admission of athlete Erik Heil," organisers said in a statement sent to Reuters.

"We immediately contacted the German Sailing Association (DSV) for information.

"Rio 2016 is in contact with the DSV and reiterates that it is our priority to assure the health and well-being of all athletes."

Heil's case has been taken up by the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), which said it was escalating the matter to Rio organisers and the international sailing federation (ISAF).

The Brazilian city will be the first South American host of the summer Games and is struggling to clean up the waters in which athletes will compete.

"We are also following, together with the ISAF, the work developed by the (Rio) State Government so that measures... to improve the quality of the water in Guanabara Bay are completed on time, assuring good conditions for the competition lanes during the Rio 2016 Games," Games organisers said.

Heil, who won third place along with Thomas Ploessel in the 49er class last week, was told by the Berlin hospital treating him that he had been infected by multi-resistant germs.

Biologists last year said rivers leading into the bay contained a superbacterium resistant to antibiotics that cure urinary, gastrointestinal and pulmonary infections.

When Rio bid to host the Games, the city said it would cut the amount of raw sewage flowing into the bay by 80 per cent.

However, it has since admitted that it is unlikely to meet that target, saying earlier this year that the amount of sewage treated before reaching the bay had risen from 17 to 49 per cent.

Pressure has mounted on Games organisers with Buzios, a beach resort and popular watersports destination a few hours from Rio, campaigning to replace Guanabara Bay for next year's Olympic sailing.

It has organised a media visit this weekend to show it has the infrastructure and water quality necessary to host the event despite assurances from organisers that the events would not be moved.