Exclusive: Rio 2016 test event will be "difficult" due to polluted waters, admits ISAF official

Wednesday, 23 April 2014
By Nick Butler

Polluted waters including Guanabara Bay remain a major concern for multiple sports ahead of Rio 2016 ©Getty ImagesApril 23 - Holding a Rio 2016 test event on the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay in barely three months' time will be "difficult", a senior official from the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) has admitted. 

Speaking today shortly after visiting Rio de Janeiro to be updated on progress, ISAF head of competitions Alastair Fox claimed he claims confident plans to reduce pollution levels in the Bay should bring improvements by the time of the Games in little more than two years' time.

He conceded, however, they will not be in place by August 2 when the week-long test event, the first for any sport, will begin, with around 400 sailors from the 10 Olympic classes due to compete. 

"The test event is a great opportunity for us see the venue in action," he told insidethegames.

"But the reality is that it will only get better with time.

"So the test event will be difficult.

"There is a robust plan in place to remove sewage, and this will be in place by Rio 2016 but not by the test event."

But Fox, who served in the same role ahead of London 2012, claimed the ISAF's concerns are being taken "a lot more seriously by the organisers and they do now seem to understand the gravity of the situation".

He described there have been many meetings between Rio 2016 and the State authorities responsible for reducing pollution levels, and the ISAF have been handed a lot of data and consequently have a better understanding of the realities of the situation in the Bay.

Rio clearly have a long way to go to match the success of the London 2012 sailing competition, in which Alastair Fox was also involved ©Getty ImagesRio clearly have a long way to go to match the success of the London 2012 sailing competition, in which Alastair Fox was also involved ©Getty Images



This response comes after a fresh wave of criticism of pollution levels, among other concerns, this month, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) introducing measures including task forces, a project manager, and more regular visits by IOC Executive Director Gilbert Felli to address the growing fears surrounding the Games. 

Last November, it was revealed Guanabara Bay has 78-times Brazil's legally allowed limit of fecal pollution, and 195-times the US limit, and this has led to numerous figures from the sailing world claiming the venue is simply unfit for top-level competition.

Fox claimed the ISAF is working closely with National Federations who have voiced concerns and that the governing body, as with the IOC, will also be applying "severe pressure" that the planned improvements are put into operation over coming months.

He claimed the ISAF has not considered alternative venues and it sailing will not be moved out of Rio.

Fox added: "It is more feasible it could be moved to cleaner local waters, but this is not something that has been seriously considered, and we are still hoping the problem will be reduced."

"But for sure, we still need to see improvements in water quality."

Although these concerns have slightly faded into the background in recent weeks in comparison with criticism of construction delays for numerous land-based sports, the fears are shared by some of the other sports which require waters around Rio.

Concerns also remain in open water swimming, where pollution fears have grown since Copacabana Bay hosted events during the 2007 Pan American Games ©Getty ImagesConcerns also remain in open water swimming, where pollution fears have grown since Copacabana Bay hosted events during the 2007 Pan American Games
©Getty Images





International Swimming Federation (FINA) executive director Cornel Marculescu's told insidethegames they are liaising with all the relevant authorities to ensure improvements at the open water swimming venue in Copacabana Bay to the south of the sailing venue.

"We're working closely with the IOC and the [Rio 2016] Organising Committee and to our knowledge the situation has improved but anyhow we will apply our rules related to water safety," Marculescu said.

"We cannot say at this stage that there are any health risks but in the event that there are, the marathon swimming event cannot be held in this venue.

"Of course we will follow this situation very closely and, if necessary, we will check for an alternative venue.

"I think that Brazilian authorities and the Organising Committee are taking all the necessary steps seriously to ensure that the best venue is available for the events [that are] part of the Olympic programme."

International Rowing Federation President-elect Jean-Christophe Rolland has also told insidethegames they are concerned about pollution levels, but are more worried about behind-schedule infrastructure work, such as stands for spectators and changing room facilities for rowers.

He claimed he preferred to view the Olympics optimistically and remains confident the necessary improvements will be made, and that the rowing competition will be successful. 

Pollution is also a challenge in the pictoresque rowing venue on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, albeit a slightly less critical one ©ITGPollution is also a challenge in the pictoresque rowing venue on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, albeit a slightly less critical one ©ITG



Last month, Rio 2016 communications director Mario Andrada insisted to insidethegames reducing pollution levels is a "major concern" for the responsible Government authorities, but insisted environmental change could still be a major legacy of the Games.

He added with specific regard to Guanabara Bay that "almost 70 per cent of the sewage will be treated by 2016", and "in no other area" is more effort being made.

Contact the writer of this story at nick.butler@insidethegames.biz


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