Australian sailors are about to test Rio de Janeiro’s “horrible” sewage-filled waters at a practice event for next year’s Olympic Games.
Three of the 35-person Australian team of sailors, coaches and support staff have already suffered stomach illness ahead of this weekend’s test event at polluted Guanabara Bay in Rio.
But Australian sailing’s performance director Peter Conde says floating debris will cause as much havoc as the dirty water.
“I think the pollution in the (rowing) lake is quite bad but rowers don’t get in the water very much, it’s rare for them to capsize their boat,” Conde told The Associated Press.
“It’s horrible on the bay as well.
“But probably what worries us more is the debris in the bay that can lead to unfair racing.
“You pick up a plastic bag and it can kill a race for the competitors. It can hit their rudders and they can capsize.
“So we’re as much concerned about the debris as we are about the pollution.”
Conde and his Australian crews have been in Brazil for two weeks preparing for the test events, also to be monitored by the Australian Olympic Committee.
Independent analysis of water quality showed high levels of viruses and bacteria in Rio’s Olympic and Paralympic water venues.
This includes Guanabara Bay where sailing competitions will be staged, the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, where rowing and canoeing will take place, and at Copacabana Beach, the venue for distance swimming and triathlon events.
Australia’s sailors were taking particular care handling towlines and ropes that are often in the water, and using simple precautions such hand sanitisers to prevent illness.
“We realised last year that some of the people that were getting sick were coaches,” Conde said.
“They were in the area … where untreated sewage was coming out. We were moored right next to a sewage outfall, it was absolutely putrid.
“They are apparently planning to divert that sewage to a treatment plant before the Games.”
The Rio Olympics start on August 5 next year.