RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The health risks of competing in the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay at the Rio Olympics are no greater than if swimming in Vancouver, the chief medical officer for the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said on Wednesday.
Asked if concerns over pollution levels in the bay and sea, where sailing, wind surfing and long-distance swimming events are being held, were over-hyped, Canada's Chief Medical Officer for the Olympics Bob McCormack was quick to say they were.
"I'm from Vancouver, if I went swimming in False Creek or English Bay I would have the same potential risk of getting sick but the risk is low and the water meets recognized international standards," McCormack told reporters.
"If you are from the west coast you know that occasionally the beaches around Stanley Park are closed because they fail to meet international standards."
While Vancouver, which hosted the 2010 Winter Games, is routinely ranked as one of the world's most liveable and eco-friendly cities, Rio de Janeiro has been rocked by criticism over is sewage-infested waters and those concerns have flared in recent months.
Two academic studies seen by Reuters in June showed the waters were infected by drug-resistant super bacteria and microbes normally found only in hospitals.
However, the State Environmental Agency (Inea), which is conducting daily monitoring of water quality with the World Health Organization (WHO), insists the levels are fine, helped by the rapid movement of water through the mouth of the bay where events will be held.
Despite daily picture of dead fish, used condoms, raw sewage and floating debris in the Olympic waters, McCormack said the COC and Canadian athletes would rely on Brazilian water quality data and daily testing by the International Olympic Committee and World Health Organisation.
"Our athletes are not concerned," McCormack said. "There are a number of jurisdictions in Canada that have problems with water quality.
"When that report came out that one spoon of water there was a 99 percent chance you will get sick we paid a lot of attention but what I can say is none of the athletes in the test event for open water swim, 10km of putting your face in the water, none of those 50 athletes go sick," he added.
"Looking at the water quality reports that we continue to monitor closely the water quality for the open water swim and triathlon is excellent.
"It is as good as the water in most of Canada; it meets all the international standards."
Editing by Ed Osmond