The Newest #RioProblem: Olympic Sailing Events to Take Place In Polluted Dump

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Rio de Janeiro, site of both the upcoming 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, is struggling to meet global standards for hosting either of the events. The latest news coming out of the troubled region will make all the #SochiProblems seem like no problem at all.

The New York Times reports that the water of the Guanabara Bay, where the sailing events are set to take place, is so polluted that training Olympians are afraid to get their feet wet. 

“Welcome to the dump that is Rio,” Germany’s sailing team said in one typically blunt assessment of the site for the Olympic regatta. Brazilians training here agree. “It can get really disgusting, with dog carcasses in some places and the water turning brown from sewage contamination,” said Thomas Low-Beer, 24, a Brazilian Olympic hopeful who sails in the bay. He shuddered when recalling how his dinghy crashed into what he believed was a partly submerged sofa, capsizing him into the murky Guanabara.

REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

This is not the first time that athletes have complained about conditions in the bay. Back in December, the Associated Press reported similar complaints from distraught Olympic sailors. Allan Norregaard, a Danish Olympian who won a bronze medal in 2012, said “I’ve been sailing all over the world for 20 years now, and this is the most polluted place I’ve ever been." Norregaard added, "“I would definitely not swim in it... we have had a couple of incidents where people went in the water and came up with red dots on their body. I don’t know what’s in the water, but it’s definitely not healthy.”

Troublingly, according to the AP, Brazil won't be able to sanitize the water by 2016, as it had promised to do:

In the May 7 letter addressed to Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, Rio's state environment secretary, Carlos Francisco Portinho, asks for more funding for depollution efforts but acknowledges that at current investment rates, it will take more than a decade to significantly reduce the levels of pollution in the bay, where the Olympic sailing events are to be held.

When Brazil won the 2016 Olympic bid in 2009, it promised to use the occasion to clean up the bay. Officials promised to "set a new standard of water quality preservation for the next generations," ensuring both a safe competition and, more importantly, clean water for Brazilians. According to the AP, the letter noted that it would take at least a decade to lower the bay's sewage intake to a safe level. As it is now — with about 70 percent of untreated sewage entering nearby bodies of water and thousands of tons of trash dumped into rivers in the area daily — officials fear that Olympians exposed to the contaminated water could fall ill with dysentery, Hepatitis A, cholera, or other diseases. 

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Though Olympic preparations have brought attention to the poor condition of the bay, environmental advocates have long called for action: 

Brazilian officials maintain that the Olympics will take place in Rio, despite these setbacks and rumors that the International Olympic Committee is eyeing London as a replacement. But first, they'll have to get through next month's World Cup event, which will play its opening game in a stadium that won't be finished. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.