July 30, 2015 / 10:34 PM / 2 years ago

USOC official keeping eye on Rio waters but would canoe

(Reuters) - The U.S. Olympic Committee is paying close attention to the water quality for sailors and rowers at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but USOC chief of sport Alan Ashley said he would have no qualms taking a canoe on the polluted waters.

“I would do it,” Ashley said during a conference call on Thursday marking the upcoming 100 days out from the Rio Games about going on a canoe ride at the Olympic site. “I‘m not sitting on the sidelines.”

Tests commissioned by the Associated Press have found levels of disease-causing viruses in the waters as much as 1.7 million times the level that would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach, but officials said competitors would be safe.

The International Olympic Committee said in a statement that it was in continual dialogue with organizers on ensuring the waters were clean enough.

“...proactive measures around the Guanabara Bay - such as closing landfills, reducing industrial pollution, increasing water treatment works, and reducing floating garbage - are being taken and implemented by the local authorities,” the IOC said.

“We have had reassurances from the WHO (World Health Organization) and others that there is no significant risk to athlete health.”

Ashley said he was also monitoring the situation.

“We pay very close attention to that. We’ve been thinking about this and paying fairly close attention to it now for quite some time,” he said.

“The welfare of our athletes is my highest priority.”

Ashley said the USOC was exploring cautionary measures that might be employed, stressing, “What do the athletes need to stay healthy?”

“(We are) gathering information on water quality and using experts we have in our country to help find out (what) to use if the athletes are exposed to certain things and have the best chance of keeping healthy.”

Although he claimed that he would not be shy about paddling around in the waters, Ashley said he would be prepared.

”I would go and do it, and I would take the same sort of precautions that I hope anybody else would take if they thought there was anything they needed to be aware of.

“This is an ongoing process that we’ll continue to work on right up until the day they compete ... so they can get the most information they can have, so they have the best chance to succeed.”

Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes

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