Rio's dirty water 'a major concern' for Canada's sailors

Canada's top sailors are having to take unusual measures to avoid getting sick from contaminated water at a pre-Olympic test event in Rio de Janeiro.

National team being hosed down after every race at pre-Olympic test event

Canadian sailor Isabella Bertold readies Saturday for a sailing test event in Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara Bay, beyond the harbour where pollution has made water quality a major concern for athletes ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. (Leo Correa/The Associated Press)

Canada's top sailors are taking extraordinary measures to avoid contamination from the polluted waters of Rio de Janeiro during a test event there this week.

"It is a major concern, and we have already seen athletes from other teams getting sick," national team coach Steve Mitchell told CBC Sports.

"Our daily precautions involve only drinking bottled water; hosing down head, ears, nose and face after sailing, and keeping your mouth shut when in the marina or in the harbour," Mitchell said.

Members of the Canadian coaching staff are also using hand sanitizer in their boat when handling lines that are in the water when in the harbour.

The steps are unusual. But Rio's pollution has been in the spotlight since an independent five-month analysis by The Associated Press published July 30 showed dangerously high levels of viruses from human sewage at all Rio Olympic water venues.

Under growing pressure, Rio state officials are employing stop-gap measures to retrieve floating rubbish from the bay, track detritus from helicopters, and step up bacteria-only monitoring. Local organizers and the International Olympic Committee have rejected moving rowing and sailing to cleaner venues.

Mitchell is not convinced the measures are working, however.

"It is worrying when we see raw sewage pouring into the marina where the athletes launch every day, and the organizers are using inflatable oil booms to try and contain it, which does nothing. 

"I hope they take further measures, but I am wary."

Canada isn't the only team concerned about water quality in Rio, where there are high reports of pollution in its waters.

Mexican sailors have been urged, too, to keep their mouths shut while in the water; Australia has also installed hand sanitizers on its coaches' dinghies.

Seven Canadian sailors are taking part in the Aquece Rio International Sailing Regatta in the Marina da Gloria, including 2015 Pan Am bronze medallist Lee Parkhill. He sits fifth in the Laser Class after three days of racing.

With files from The Canadian Press