Corpses, ex­cre­ment, li er: Wel­come to Rio’s sail­ing venue

The Myanmar Times - - Olympics -

WHEN Olympic sailors com­pete in Rio, the cam­eras will show a made-fortele­vi­sion scene of sparkling trop­i­cal wa­ters and moun­tains. Luck­ily, the bil­lions of view­ers won’t catch the re­volt­ing stink.

More than nine mil­lion peo­ple live in Rio and towns around the rest of Gua­n­abara Bay. At best only half the sewage they pro­duce is treated be­fore it pours into the city’s watery heart.

In­cred­i­bly, the fact that sailors will com­pete in a gi­ant cesspit – which Brazil­ian re­searchers say con­tains drug-re­sis­tant su­per­bac­te­ria – is not their main worry.

It’s the big, float­ing stuff ca­pa­ble of snar­ing or even dam­ag­ing boats and medal dreams that keep ath­letes like Ka­hena Kunze and her 49er crew­mate Mar­tine Grael up at night.

Be­cause garbage col­lec­tion in greater Rio is no bet­ter than the sewage treat­ment, the bay brims with plas­tic bags, bot­tles, dis­carded fur­ni­ture and dead an­i­mals.

The New York Times pub­lished a pic­ture this week of a bloated hu­man body in the bay. Another body part washed up on Copaca­bana beach, just out­side Gua­n­abara, in June. “It’s shame­ful,” Kunze told AFP. As part of its win­ning 2009 bid to host the Olympics, Rio promised to treat 80 per­cent of the pol­lu­tion, a task re­quir­ing enor­mous, ex­pen­sive in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments.

Hav­ing com­pletely failed to de­liver, Rio opted for emer­gency mea­sures.

A fleet of 12 trash-col­lect­ing boats called “eco-bar­cos” have spent months pa­trolling the bay, pluck­ing an av­er­age of 45 tons of rub­bish a month – about one and a half tons daily – from the wa­ter, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials.

When the races start, the float­ing garbage col­lec­tors will be out in force.

The first lines of de­fense, though, are so-called eco-bar­ri­ers. These are nets placed across 17 rivers en­ter­ing Gua­n­abara – rivers used by mil­lions of peo­ple as garbage dumps and open sew­ers.

At a an eco-bar­rier on the River Mer­iti in the Duque de Cax­ias neigh­bor­hood, there was a soup of plas­tic, car tires, chil­dren’s toys and house­hold ap­pli­ances in­clud­ing a mi­crowave and a fridge.

Each day, labour­ers go out in a small alu­minum boat, scoop­ing up some pieces and push­ing the rest to­wards the bank, where a dig­ger is used to shovel the de­bris into a dump­ster. It is a dirty, po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous job per­formed amid the chok­ing stench of raw sewage, some of which comes from a favela slum next door.

“We’ve found dead dogs, rats, cats, every­thing,” re­called one of the work­ers, who said he makes only 1400 reais a month (US$432) and works nine-hour days.

Sur­vey­ing the scene, Rio’s state sec­re­tary for the en­vi­ron­ment, said eco-bar­ri­ers are enough to en­sure a trou­ble-free Olympics – or al­most.

“Is there a chance we’ll have some prob­lem?” he asked. “It’s not im­pos­si­ble. But I am very op­ti­mistic that we can guar­an­tee a fair re­gatta.”

Mar­tine Grael, daugh­ter of five­time Olympic medal­list Tor­ben Grael, is an out­spo­ken critic of the pol­lu­tion fail­ure. She was fa­mously pic­tured on a pad­dle­board in Gua­n­abara pre­tend­ing to watch a tele­vi­sion she’d just found.

Her brother Marco, who is also in the Brazil­ian sail­ing team, said all com­peti­tors run the same risks, where a sim­ple plas­tic bag around a cen­ter­board or rud­der could ruin a race.

“It could hap­pen,” he said. “It’s not some­thing I even like to think about.”

The sailors’ best ally will be mother na­ture: ti­dal streams keep ar­eas picked for the con­tests rel­a­tively clean, while the dry Au­gust weather means less rain to wash garbage down­stream.

So, chances are that the con­tests will pass off with­out in­ci­dent.

“But the Games will go away and the pol­lu­tion will stay,” said Tor­ben Grael, who now coaches the Brazil­ian sail­ing team.

“We were hop­ing for some­thing bet­ter” from the Olympics, he said sadly. “That’s not go­ing to hap­pen.”

– SE­CU­RITY at the Olympic vil­lage has been tight­ened fol­low­ing the theft of a com­puter and team shirts from the Aus­tralian del­e­ga­tion dur­ing a fire evac­u­a­tion, team of­fi­cials said.

Aus­tralia chef-de-mis­sion Kitty Chiller told re­porters that a lap­top and team jer­seys were stolen when the fa­cil­ity was evac­u­ated for a small blaze on July 29.

“There was one lap­top taken from one of our cy­cling of­fi­cials on the fifth floor. Our IT equip­ment in our op­er­a­tional space had also been ri­fled through but noth­ing had been stolen,” Chiller said.

Chiller said dur­ing the evac­u­a­tion she had no­ticed three fire mar­shals ap­par­ently tak­ing Aus­tralia team shirts.

“When I ar­rived, which was half­way through the evac­u­a­tion, I saw three fire mar­shals – I don’t know who they were – walk­ing out with team shirts,” she said.

“I thought maybe they have helped evac­u­ate peo­ple and we’ve given them a shirt. It doesn’t seem to be what hap­pened.

After the fire, Chiller said Rio 2016 or­ga­niz­ers in­creased se­cu­rity through­out the Olympic vil­lage.

“There is a much greater se­cu­rity pres­ence than there had been at the start when there were a lot of con­trac­tors and work­ers in the vil­lage, get­ting the build­ing done in time,” she said.

“Rio 2016 en­gaged a pri­vate se­cu­rity force and we now have pri­vate se­cu­rity and ev­ery build­ing has [that] on ei­ther side of the doors. The se­cu­rity pres­ence is there.”

Rio’s crime rate has been one of the big­gest con­cerns head­ing into the Olympics. China re­vealed on July 29 that mem­bers of its Olympic del­e­ga­tion had al­ready fallen vic­tim to theft.

Chiller said the vast size of the Olympic Vil­lage, which houses thou­sands of ath­letes and sup­port staff, “theft is go­ing to be in­evitable.”

She re­jected any sug­ges­tion Aus­tralia’s del­e­ga­tion was be­ing de­lib­er­ately tar­geted, how­ever.

“No-one would tar­get the Aus­tralians. They wouldn’t dare,” she said. –

Photo: EPA

A man works on clean­ing the Meirti River, which flows into Gua­n­abara Bay where sail­ing com­pe­ti­tions will be held dur­ing the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, on July 20.

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