The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is to order new testing for disease-causing viruses in waters that will stage events during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, with organisers in the Brazilian city pledging to improve water quality ahead of next summer’s sporting spectacle.
Confirmation of the new testing comes after an investigation commissioned by the Associated Press news agency stated athletes at Rio 2016 will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human faeces they risk becoming “violently ill” and unable to compete.
AP said it carried out its own tests after the Brazilian government and the IOC did not check for viruses during an initial analysis of the water, instead relying on testing for bacteria only. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also called on the IOC to ensure that more thorough tests are done.
In response, the IOC and the Rio 2016 organising committee have now confirmed that they will expand their testing of the waters ahead of next year’s Games.
“The WHO is saying they are recommending viral testing,” IOC medical director Dr Richard Budgett told AP. “We've always said we will follow the expert advice, so we will now be asking the appropriate authorities in Rio to follow the expert advice which is for viral testing. We have to follow the best expert advice.”
A number of water sports governing bodies also expressed concern at the lack of in-depth tests of water in Rio. The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) is one such organisation, with its chief executive Peter Sowrey stating that the body was planning to organise its own tests of the water.
Speaking on Saturday, Sowrey said: “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.”
Rio 2016 has pledged to support increased testing efforts ahead of the Games, which will begin on August 5 next year. Mario Andrada, communications chief for the local organising committee, said the health and welfare of athletes is the organisation’s “principal priority” and that it will do more in the lead up to the Games.
According to the Reuters news agency, Andrada listed a number of new initiatives organisers are planning to roll out ahead of the Games. These include new “eco boats”, a new monitoring system, new eco barriers, a boat to collect waste at every barrier, as well as pipelines to move sewage elsewhere.
Organisers have faced heavy criticism over the state of the city’s waters. When bidding to stage the Games, the Rio 2016 team pledged to clean up water in Rio’s Guanabara Bay by 80 per cent. However, tests earlier this year showed that the amount of sewage treated before reaching the water had only increased to 49 per cent, with organisers admitting that they are unlikely to meet their original goal.
However, Andrada is upbeat about the state of Rio’s waters. He added: “The waters around the competition areas currently comply with national and international standards. We remain committed to be absolutely transparent with athletes about the state of the water before every day of competition.”
Nearly 1,400 athletes will sail in the waters near Marina da Gloria in Guanabara Bay, swim off Copacabana beach, and compete in canoeing and rowing on the waters of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon (pictured).