Rio events could be moved from pol­luted bay


The head of sail­ing’s gov­ern­ing body threat­ened Satur­day to move all Olympic sail­ing events out of pol­luted Gua­n­abara Bay un­less the wa­ter is cleaner and float­ing rub­bish is re­moved for next year’s Rio Games.

“If we can’t get the wa­ter to a level, then we’ll move it out­side (to the At­lantic Ocean) — for sure,” Peter Sowrey told The As­so­ci­ated Press on the fi­nal day of an Olympic test event.

Such a move would be an em­bar­rass­ment to lo­cal or­ga­niz­ers and the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee. They have said re­peat­edly the wa­ter is safe de­spite be­ing filled with float­ing rub­bish and un­treated sewage that gushes down gul­lies from hill­side fave­las.

Sowrey, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of ISAF, said one course for the test event in­side the bay was closed af­ter float­ing rub­bish hin­dered rac­ing for two days. Rub­bish flowed into the bay de­spite lit­tle rain in Rio in re­cent weeks, prob­a­bly the best weather of­fi­cials could want.

He also com­plained he re­ceived no data dur­ing the week-long Olympic test from the state body that mon­i­tors wa­ter qual­ity. A check of the web­site for Inea — the state in­sti­tute — showed it had re­ported wa­ter qual­ity on the bay only once in the last 10 days.

“We are not happy as a fed­er­a­tion from the re­port­ing on the wa­ter,” Sowrey said. “We’re not get­ting the re­port­ing we ex­pected to get.”

Rio’s pol­lu­tion has been in the spotlight since an in­de­pen­dent five­month anal­y­sis by the AP pub­lished July 30 showed dan­ger­ously high lev­els of viruses from hu­man sewage at all Rio Olympic wa­ter venues for sail­ing, row­ing, ca­noe­ing, triathlon and dis­tance swimming.

The IOC has de­clined to en­dorse test­ing for viruses, which can cause stom­ach and res­pi­ra­tory ail­ments that could knock an ath­lete out of com­pe­ti­tion.

Sowrey said the closely watched sail­ing test event had gone “pretty well” from an op­er­a­tional view­point. But he said there was still too much raw sewage be­ing pumped into the bay, and too much float­ing de­bris that makes fair rac­ing im­pos­si­ble.

“If we can’t get it clean, we’ve got to do some­thing,” he said.

ISAF has three cour­ses in the bay and the three in the open At­lantic. Mal­colm Page, a two-time Olympic gold-medal sailor and a spokesman for ISAF, backed up Sowrey.

“Yes, you could sail all the com­pe­ti­tions out­side,” he said.

Mov­ing sail­ing out of Gua­n­abara would be a blow to ISAF, which hopes to use the back­drop of Su­gar­loaf Moun­tain to draw fans to the sport. Tele­vi­sion rights hold­ers also love the post­card im­ages, which look per­fect from a dis­tance.

Paul Hen­der­son, the for­mer pres­i­dent of ISAF and a for­mer IOC mem­ber, said the event should be moved.

“ISAF should de­mand it be moved be­cause Rio 2016 did not live up to their obli­ga­tions,” Hen­der­son said in an email to AP.

Sailors at the week-long event wan­dered around the Ma­rina da Glo­ria tak­ing photos and videos of raw sewage still pour­ing into the wa­ter just a few steps from where they launch their boats. Raw sewage is also still flow­ing into Fla­mengo Beach, which will be used as a sail­ing view­ing area for the Olympics, which open Aug. 5.

“We need much more im­prove­ment in clean­ing up when it rains,” Sowrey said. “And cer­tainly clos­ing down all the sewage out­lets.”

Sowrey, like the IOC, has de­clined to en­dorse vi­ral test­ing, largely be­cause the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has not set a stan­dard for viruses. But he said the high lev­els con­cerned him.

“Ob­vi­ously I don’t sleep well,” he said. “I worry about it a lot. We’re all wor­ried about it.”

He said he hoped to re­turn to Rio be­fore the end of the year, and he said it was un­clear how soon ISAF would de­cide if it will move from the bay.

He said he also fears the wa­ter is­sue could dis­tract from next year’s Olympic sail­ing, turn­ing the event into a de­bate fo­rum on san­i­ta­tion and pol­lu­tion.

“We’re wor­ried,” he said. “If the whole thing is around the qual­ity of the wa­ter, then it’s a fail­ure for me.”

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