World

Race over troubled water: Gripes over pollution, sofa in Rio

The waters around Rio de Janeiro are the worse for pollution than any other sailing venue in the world, one member of the German team said on Saturday.

'The water is a lot worse than everywhere else where we sail'

A man paddles his stand-up board at Botafogo Beach, located in Rio's Guanabara Bay, during a protest to call attention to pollution in its waters. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

The waters around Rio de Janeiro are worse for pollution than any other sailing venue in the world, one member of the German team said on Saturday.

Speaking at a news conference in Brazil, German athlete Philipp Buhl insisted the water quality was the worst he had competed in — but that he had not become ill as a result of pollution.

"The water is a lot worse than everywhere else where we sail. I don't think I need to beat about the bush here. However, for me personally the results have been quite positive," Buhl told journalists. 

"I have been here five times and have gone home healthy from Rio five times. Every time I got a lot of water in my face and elsewhere. It's not very nice when it happens, but still I managed to stay healthy."

Buhl said that the water quality in the area where they put their boats into the harbour had improved since his last visit.

Germany's Philipp Buhl races in Perth, Australia. Buhl complained about the water conditions in Rio on Saturday, calling them the worst he had ever competed in. (Theron Kirkman/Associated Press)

Rumours about the infamous water have been swirling online after a sports journalist tweeted out Friday that an Olympic kayaker may have "capsized after hitting a submerged sofa" in the water.

Those claims have been unsubstantiated so far and an investigation into whether or not it happened is underway. That didn't stop the internet from daydreaming though, where #KayakSofa got its own Twitter account.

Clean waterway meant to be legacy

Rio's contaminated Olympic waterways have drawn attention as the city suffers endemic levels of gastrointestinal diseases from a lack of sewage collection. Reuters recently reported that Rio's Olympic water venues and favourite beaches also tested positive for drug-resistant "super bacteria."

A study published in late 2014 had shown the presence of the super bacteria — classified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an urgent public health threat — off one of the beaches in Guanabara Bay, where sailing and wind-surfing events will be held during the Games.

Waste from countless hospitals, in addition to hundreds of thousands of households, pours into storm drains, rivers and streams crisscrossing Rio, allowing the super bacteria to spread outside the city's hospitals in recent years.

Kayakers warm up on the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in Rio last year. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

Cleaning the city's waterways was meant to be one of the Games' greatest legacies and a high-profile promise in the official 2009 bid document Rio used to win the right to host South America's first Olympics.

That goal has instead transformed into a failure, with athletes lamenting the stench of sewage and complaining about debris that bangs into and clings to boats in Guanabara Bay, potential hazards for a fair competition.

Zika risk low

Meanwhile team doctor, Bernd Wolfarth said that fears about the Zika virus had not come to reality so far.

"Altogether I have to say that it has been how we had hoped and foreseen, there are very few mosquitoes here, the authorities here have said that the number of new infections recently is almost at zero in the last weeks, and I can say that at the moment it is not a problem for us, and I think we did our homework in advance," he told journalists.  

Last week, officials in Brazil said the risk of Zika virus infections at the Games was low.

Rio de Janeiro's health secretary, Daniel Soranz, said Zika should not deter travellers from coming to the Games, as cases of the virus had dipped significantly in recent months.

With files from CBC News

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now