Rio sailors em­bark on anti-pol­lu­tion protest


Yachts and fish­ing boats con­verged Satur­day on Rio’s filthy Gua­n­abara Bay, the site of next year’s Olympic sail­ing con­tests, to protest the author­i­ties’ fail­ure to tackle se­vere pol­lu­tion.

More than a dozen sail­boats, eight small fish­ing craft and a swarm of ca­noes were among the fleet em­bark­ing from Ma­rina da Glo­ria, the in­ner city har­bor where Olympic ath­letes are al­ready pre­par­ing for the 2016 Sum­mer Games.

Sail­ing un­der the im­pos­ing cliffs of the Su­gar­loaf moun­tain, protesters honked foghorns, blew res­cue whis­tles and chanted “baia viva!”, mean­ing roughly “the bay lives!”

Wa­ter qual­ity in Gua­n­abara has be­come the main con­cern over Brazil’s prepa­ra­tions for the world’s big­gest sport­ing event. The city prom­ises safe con­di­tions, but en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists say the stun­ningly scenic Gua­n­abara Bay is ef­fec­tively a gi­ant sewer.

“There’s not a sin­gle beach in the bay that is un­pol­luted,” said en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Ser­gio Ri­cardo, who joined the protesters.

Not only does a ma­jor­ity of the greater Rio area’s sewage pour un­treated into Gua­n­abara, but dozens of rivers de­liver a steady sup­ply of trash, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say.

Ac­cord­ing to Ri­cardo, in some ar­eas of Gua­n­abara “there’s a more than one-me­ter thick layer of plas­tic at the bot­tom.”

Rio’s orig­i­nal bid to host the Olympics in­cluded the head­line prom­ise of cut­ting pol­lu­tion by 80 per­cent, but of­fi­cials now con­cede this has no chance of be­ing achieved any time soon.

“It was pro­pa­ganda,” Ri­cardo said, goal.”

Also tak­ing part in the float­ing protest, Brazil­ian Olympic sailor Is­abel Swan spoke of her love for Gua­n­abara Bay.

“It’s the most beau­ti­ful post­card in the world and it lacks just one thing — be­ing clean,” Swan, who won bronze in Bei­jing in 2008, said.




Bat­tle for Public Opin­ion

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists see the runup to the Olympics as a unique — pos­si­bly fi­nal — op­por­tu­nity to pres­sure the gov­ern­ment into mak­ing good on a clean-up pro­gram that has been run­ning with lit­tle ef­fect for two decades.

Satur­day’s protest would not have been im­me­di­ately vis­i­ble to many Rio res­i­dents, un­less they were among those sun­bathing on one of the nearby pol­luted beaches. How­ever, a boat car­ry­ing a large con­tin­gent of Brazil­ian TV crews and other jour­nal­ists along­side the de­mon­stra­tors en­sured an im­pact.

“That’s the idea of this,” said one of the or­ga­niz­ers with the Baia Viva group, Nahyda Franca, 58. “We’re one year from the Olympics and need to get at­ten­tion.”

The pol­lu­tion is im­pos­si­ble to deny. Even in­side Ma­rina da Glo­ria on Satur­day raw sewage and toi­let pa­per could be seen pour­ing from city drains.

How­ever, of­fi­cials and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists don’t al­ways agree on the scope of the prob­lem or the so­lu­tion.

This week, Rio Mayor Ed­uardo Paes said ath­letes would be “pro­tected,” while In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mis­sion boss Thomas Bach said con­di­tions would be “good.”

Ri­cardo said the real story is told by the bay’s much-loved dol- phin pop­u­la­tion, which he said had gone down from “hun­dreds” a cou­ple decades ago to 35 — two down in just the last three months. “This is a fail­ure,” he said. Sail­ing team mem­bers pre­par­ing in the ma­rina for an Olympic dress re­hearsal next week ap­pear to have set aside any wor­ries.

Guil­laume Chiellino, man­ager for the French team, said his sailors are tak­ing med­i­cal pre­cau­tions and that in­de­pen­dent tests of the wa­ter will be made.

How­ever, he was “de­lighted” to be in such a “mythic bay.”

Olympic sailors are of­ten stranded far from the buzz of the host city, as was the case in the 2012 Lon­don games. Be­ing in Gua­n­abara Bay this time means a chance to take cen­ter stage.

“For our sport it will be grand to have the im­ages un­der the Su­gar­loaf moun­tain and the Cor­co­v­ado,” Chiellino told AFP at a stor­age area for sleek rac­ing dinghies. “I think we can be the sport of these Olympics.”

“That, I think, will help us for­get that the wa­ter isn’t trans­par­ent.”


Peo­ple row their boats as part of a protest against the pol­luted wa­ters of Gua­n­abara bay in Rio de Janeiro, Satur­day, Aug. 8.

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