Rio's waters not a health worry for sailors and rowers

RIO DE JANEIRO • Athletes are not worried about getting sick during the Rio Olympics next year - despite reports that waters to be used for sailing and rowing events have pollution levels equivalent to raw sewage.

Tests commissioned by the Associated Press found levels of disease-causing viruses as much as 1.7 million times the level that would be considered hazardous on a southern California beach.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has reacted by reiterating that the health and welfare of athletes are its top priority.

It is in constant talks with the organisers about how to ensure that the waters are clean enough for the competition.

"For example, we know that pro-active measures around the Guanabara Bay - such as closing landfills, reducing industrial pollution, increasing water treatment works and reducing floating garbage - are being taken and implemented by the local authorities," the IOC said in a statement. "We have had reassurances from the WHO (World Health Organisation) and others that there is no significant risk to athlete health."

Sailors and rowers, who are familiar with the Olympic waters, concurred and said they were not concerned.

"Brazilians haven't caught anything," Olympic gold medallist Marcelo Ferreira said.

"I've never had any health problems sailing in Guanabara Bay.

"The problem with the Guanabara Bay has been dragging on for 30 years since I was a child.

"There's no point in going on about the quality of the water; the Olympics are going to be in Rio no matter what and so this subject is dead for me."

A representative for British sailors, who are currently in Rio for a test event, said they were also not too worried.

American Paige Railey, winner of a gold medal in the women's laser radial in last week's Pan American Games, said she had no fears.

"We've spent a lot of time there the past few years and haven't had any issues with the water. Honestly, Rio has been doing a great job with the water, we haven't had any issues. I think it's fine. I even swim in it, it doesn't bug me at all."

The state environment secretariat on Thursday rejected the study reported by AP. It guaranteed an acceptable level of water quality in the race lanes, although not at the marina from where the boats would set sail.

"By both European and American standards, the quality of the water is appropriate for the events," the secretariat said in a statement.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2015, with the headline 'Rio's waters not a health worry for sailors and rowers'. Print Edition | Subscribe