Mon | Jan 17, 2022

WHO and sailing body seek virus tests in Rio Olympic venues

Published:Saturday | August 1, 2015 | 12:00 AM
A discarded ball floats on the water in a canal at the Mare slum complex in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday. In Rio, much of the waste runs through open-air ditches to fetid streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites and blight the city's picture postcard beaches.
A triathlete swims in the waters of Copacabana Beach during training in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday. Triathletes swam in the waters off Copacabana despite published warnings that water in the area was "unfit" for swimming. Athletes said that the conditions of the water appeared better than they were expecting. But water experts and the government's own pollution monitoring officials all note that sewage pollution typically isn't something that can be seen by the naked eye.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to analyse virus levels in Rio de Janeiro's Olympic waters, and the governing body of world sailing says it will start doing its own independent virus tests.

The moves come after an Associated Press (AP) investigation showed a serious health risk to Olympic athletes in venues around Rio rife with sewage.

In a statement to the AP, the WHO said it suggested the IOC start monitoring for viruses at the Rio venues.

"WHO has also advised the IOC to widen the scientific base of indicators to include viruses," the statement said. "The risk assessment should be revised accordingly, pending the results of further analysis. The Rio Local Organising Committee and the IOC are requested to follow WHO recommendations on treatment of household and hospital waste."

A spokesman from the Rio organising committee referred comment to the IOC, which is meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Olympic organisers and the Brazilian government have tested only for bacteria to decide if the water is safe. Many experts say viruses are a far bigger problem and need to be monitored.

The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) said independently it would start testing for viruses.

"We're going to find someone who can do the testing for us that can safely cover what we need to know from a virus perspective as well as the bacteria perspective," Peter Sowrey, chief executive of the, ISAF said. "That's my plan."

The sailing venue in Guanabara Bay is badly polluted, as is a separate venue for rowing and canoeing - Rodrigo de Freitas lake - in central Rio. The AP investigation also showed venues for triathlon and open-water swimming off Copacabana Beach had high virus levels that pose a threat to athletes and tourists.

Sowrey, who spoke from Kuala Lumpur, has a local interest. His wife, Alesandra, is a native of Rio and he has a nine-year-old daughter, Marie.

"I'm a father myself," Sowrey said. "I want to make sure that everyone who goes out in the water is as safe as possible and is given the right guidance and right security."

The AP analysis showed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from sewage in venues where about 1,400 athletes will compete in water sports in the games which open in a year - August 5, 2016.


untreated sewage


In Rio, much of the waste and sewage goes untreated and runs down hillside ditches and streams into Olympic water venues that are littered with floating rubbish, household waste and even dead animals.

At the world swimming championships in Kazan, Russia, swimmers said they were worried about the situation in Rio.

"The athletes and the athletes' commission have expressed their concern at the current problems with the quality of water, the cleanliness of the water," Vladimir Salnikov, a former Olympic gold-medal winner, said. "That will be put into a recommendation, and people will pay attention to that."

Shin Otsuka, an executive board member of the International Triathlon Union (ITU), said on Friday that his body was considering testing for viruses.

The ITU is holding an Olympic qualifying race today using the waters off Copacabana Beach.