WHO and sail­ing body seek virus tests in Rio Olympic venues


The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has asked the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC) to an­a­lyze virus lev­els in Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic wa­ters, and the gov­ern­ing body of world sail­ing says it will start do­ing its own in­de­pen­dent virus tests.

The moves come af­ter an As­so­ci­ated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed a se­ri­ous health risk to Olympic ath­letes in venues around Rio rife with sewage.

In a state­ment to the AP, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion said it sug­gested the IOC start mon­i­tor­ing for viruses at the Rio venues.

“WHO has also ad­vised the IOC to widen the sci­en­tific base of in­di­ca­tors to in­clude viruses,” the state­ment said. “The risk as­sess­ment should be re­vised ac­cord­ingly, pend­ing the re­sults of fur­ther anal­y­sis. The Rio Lo­cal Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee and the IOC are re­quested to fol­low WHO rec­om­men­da­tions on treat­ment of house­hold and hos­pi­tal waste.”

A spokesman from the Rio or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee re­ferred com­ment to the IOC, which is meet­ing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“The WHO is say­ing they are rec­om­mend­ing vi­ral test­ing,” IOC med­i­cal di­rec­tor Dr. Richard Bud- gett told the AP. “We’ve al­ways said we will fol­low the ex­pert ad­vice, so we will now be ask­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate author­i­ties in Rio to fol­low the ex­pert ad­vice which is for vi­ral test­ing. We have to fol­low the best ex­pert ad­vice.”

IOC spokesman Mark Adams added: “The health and wel­fare of the ath­letes is a top pri­or­ity for the IOC. The Rio author­i­ties are fol­low­ing WHO test­ing stan­dards and, ac­cord­ing to the WHO, there is no sig­nif­i­cant risk to ath­letes.”

The In­ter­na­tional Sail­ing Fed­er­a­tion said in­de­pen­dently it would start test­ing for viruses.

‘Risk as­sess­ment should be


“We’re go­ing to find some­one who can do the test­ing for us that can safely cover what we need to know from a virus per­spec­tive as well as the bac­te­ria per­spec­tive,” Peter Sowrey, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the ISAF, said. “That’s my plan.”

The sail­ing venue in Gua­n­abara Bay is badly pol­luted, as is a sep­a­rate venue for row­ing and ca­noe­ing — Ro­drigo de Fre­itas lake — in cen­tral Rio. The AP in­ves­ti­ga­tion also showed venues for triathlon and open-wa­ter swimming off Copaca­bana Beach had high virus lev­els that pose a threat to ath­letes and tourists.

Sowrey, who spoke from Kuala Lumpur, has a lo­cal in­ter­est. His wife Ale­san­dra is a na­tive of Rio, and he has a 9-year-old daugh­ter Marie.

“I’m a fa­ther my­self,” Sowrey said. “I want to make sure that ev­ery­one who goes out in the wa­ter is as safe as pos­si­ble and is given the right guid­ance and right se­cu­rity.”

The AP anal­y­sis showed dan­ger­ously high lev­els of viruses and bac­te­ria from sewage in venues where about 1,400 ath­letes will com­pete in wa­ter sports, in the games which open in a year — Aug. 5, 2016.

In Rio, much of the waste and sewage goes un­treated and runs down hill­side ditches and streams into Olympic wa­ter venues that are lit­tered with float­ing rub­bish, house­hold waste, and even dead an­i­mals.

At the world swimming cham­pi­onships in Kazan, Rus­sia, swim­mers said they were wor­ried about the sit­u­a­tion in Rio.

“The ath­letes and the ath­letes’ com­mis­sion have ex­pressed their con­cern at the cur­rent prob­lems with the qual­ity of wa­ter, the clean­li­ness of the wa­ter,” Vladimir Sal­nikov, a for­mer Olympic gold-medal win­ner, said. “That will be put into a rec­om­men­da­tion, and peo­ple will pay at­ten­tion to that.”

Shin Otsuka, an ex­ec­u­tive board mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Triathlon Union, said on Fri­day his body was con­sid­er­ing test­ing for viruses.

The ITU is hold­ing an Olympic qual­i­fy­ing race on Sun­day us­ing the wa­ters off Copaca­bana Beach.

Costa Ri­can triath­lete Leonardo Cha­con said he knows the risks, but will take them.

“We know we are ex­posed to viruses, maybe to a health prob­lem later,” he said on Fri­day in Rio. “But in my case, I have in­vested so much to pre­pare my­self for this, and I want this to hap­pen be­cause I can’t re­cu­per­ate this in­vest­ment any other way other than com­pet­ing and win­ning the points that I need to win.”

When Rio was awarded the Olympics in 2009, it promised clean­ing its wa­ters would be an Olympic legacy. But Rio Mayor Ed­uardo Paes has re­peat­edly ac­knowl­edged this will not be done, call­ing it a “lost op­por­tu­nity.”

Sowrey said the ISAF would start do­ing its own wa­ter test­ing in Rio this month, no longer re­ly­ing solely on Brazil’s gov­ern­ment anal­y­sis.

“We want

to make sure we keep pres­sure on the or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee and the Brazil­ians to make sure they put some energy into clean­ing up the bay,” Sowrey said. “My job is to make sure some­thing ac­tu­ally hap­pens and it’s not just talk, and some­one is ac­tu­ally walk­ing the walk.”

Sow­ery said he re­ceived a call from a woman who wanted re­as­sur­ance that the ISAF was giv­ing the right guid­ance to her child and oth­ers com­pet­ing in an Olympic sail­ing test event this month in Rio.

He said a “backup plan” in­cluded sail­ing all the events out­side Gua­n­abara Bay in the open At­lantic. The ISAF has three cour­ses there, and three in­side the bay.

He said it would be “heart­break­ing” to sail out­side the bay and lose the post­card back­drop of Su­gar­loaf Moun­tain, which will be a fo­cus of tele­vi­sion cov­er­age.

In most Olympics, sail­ing is con­tested far from the main Olympic venues. In Rio, the sailors and rowers and ca­noeists get cen­ter stage — a chance to win fans and valu­able spon­sors.

“We’re not go­ing to sac­ri­fice health for the sake of good pic­tures and good TV,” he said. “But the back­drop of Rio is an amaz­ing back­drop, and will do some­thing for the sport of sail­ing.”

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