TORONTO (Reuters) - For sailors, the water they raced on at the Pan American Games this week will seem like Perrier compared to the notoriously fetid Guanabara Bay Olympic sailing venue that awaits them at next year’s Rio Summer Games.
While yachtsmen battled for Pan Am medals in the clear waters around Toronto’s Centre Island, hundreds of sunbathers splashed about in Lake Ontario on a sizzling weekend, a sight unlikely to be repeated in Rio de Janeiro with Olympic sailors who have visited the venue for test events complaining of floating sofas and animal carcasses.
”It’s a big issue,“ Brazil’s Fernanda Demetrio Decnop, bronze medalist in the women’s laser radial, told Reuters. ”It is huge, we athletes we complain a lot about that because we sail with the wind, we sail with the nature and we worry about the nature and it is terrible to have a place, my home where I sail and it is polluted.
“I am hoping they make something to improve it because until now I don’t see much.”
The cleaning of Guanabara Bay was a key part of Rio’s bid pledge and has long been a goal of successive local governments.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent but the water remains fetid.
Biologists have said rivers leading into the bay contained a superbacteria that is resistant to antibiotics and can cause urinary, gastrointestinal and pulmonary infections.
When it bid to host the Games, Rio said it would cut the amount of raw sewage flowing into the bay by 80 percent.
Brazil Olympic officials told reporters during a Pan Am press briefing that they continue to make progress but it remains unlikely they will meet the 80 percent target.
The polluted bay, which some sailors have described as an open sewer, has triggered concerns over athletes’ health but American Paige Railey, winner of Pan Am gold on Saturday in the women’s laser radial, said she does not know what the fuss is all about.
”We’ve spent a lot of time there and haven’t had any issues,“ said Railey, sixth in the laser at the 2012 London Olympics. ”I know U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S. Sailing have taken measures to make sure all of us will be healthy and fine.
“I think it’s fine. I even swim in it, it doesn’t bother me at all.”
The polluted waters, however, remain a major concern for world sailing’s governing body (ISAF).
With Olympic plans calling for three courses inside the bay and two outside, ISAF is looking to add a third course out in Atlantic to provide more flexibility in the scheduling of races if conditions in Guanabara do not improve.
Robert Scheidt, Brazil’s most celebrated yachtsman and one of the country’s greatest Olympians with five medals, conceded conditions could be better but will not impact competition.
Scheidt, who has medaled at the last five Olympics winning gold in the laser at the 1996 Atlanta and 2004 Athens Summer Games, acknowledged his focus was on winning gold on home waters, wherever the races are staged.
”I agree conditions are not ideal but I think they are not going to take something from the competition,“ Scheidt told Reuters. ”We need to get the water a little bit cleaner but last year we did a test event and there was no big problem.
”It is not the first time I have gone to the Olympics but at home there are, of course, going to be big expectations.
“I think through all these years of competing you learn how to manage these situations to not let the pressure be something negative.”
Editing by Gene Cherry