Animal Carcasses, Sewage Leave Brazil’s Olympic Sailing Waters “Dark, Brown, and Stinking.”

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 19 2014 8:05 PM

Brazil’s Olympic Warning: Animal Carcasses, Sewage Make Sailing Venue “Dark, Brown, and Stinking.”

464264423-boats-float-along-the-shoreline-of-the-polluted-waters
The shoreline of Guanabara Bay, site of Olympic sailing events, on January 21, 2014.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Dire warnings about Olympic preparations falling so abysmally behind that the Games are—at least rhetorically—under threat is nothing new. The Games, themselves, after all, are no longer the mom-and-pop operation of the 20th century. Greece struggled in the run-up to its most recent role as host. Russia had a number of wobbles of its own. Now, it is Brazil’s turn on the pre-Olympic hot seat.

The 2016 Summer Olympics are two years away and the country currently has its hands full pulling off another Olympic-sized undertaking—next month’s soccer World Cup. But, that hasn’t stopped the 2016 warnings directed at host city, Rio de Janeiro.

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Let’s start with the general state of the Rio Games preparations so far, via the New York Times:

Francesco Ricci Bitti, president of the influential association representing various Summer Olympic sports, said the Rio Games were in “the most risky position” of any Olympics he could remember. John D. Coates, an International Olympic Committee vice president, said last month that Rio’s preparations were “the worst I have experienced,” with construction yet to begin on the Deodoro sports complex, the second most important site after Olympic Park.

The Times, on Sunday, took a look behind the curtain of the preparations at Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay—host of the sailing and windsurfing events—which has been a focal point for criticism, and found a particularly gnarly state of affairs:

Nico Delle Karth, an Austrian sailor preparing for the 2016 Summer Olympics, said it was the foulest place he had ever trained. Garbage bobbed on the surface, everything from car tires to floating mattresses. The water reeked so badly of sewage that he was afraid to put his feet in it to launch his boat from shore…
“Welcome to the dump that is Rio,” Germany’s sailing team said in one typically blunt assessment of the site for the Olympic regatta. Brazilians training here agree. “It can get really disgusting, with dog carcasses in some places and the water turning brown from sewage contamination,” said Thomas Low-Beer, 24, a Brazilian Olympic hopeful who sails in the bay. He shuddered when recalling how his dinghy crashed into what he believed was a partly submerged sofa, capsizing him into the murky Guanabara… Calling the bay “dark, brown and stinking,” Lars Grael, 50, a Brazilian sailing legend who won two Olympic medals, said he had encountered human corpses on four occasions while sailing in the bay.

So, with the clock ticking, that’s the state of play on the shores of Rio at the moment. However, showing up two years before an event is set to be held, while surely sound management practice, does somehow feel like showing up two hours early to a dinner party and then standing in the kitchen muttering: “Ohh, doesn’t look like you’re going to make it. Maybe we should go out to eat instead.” But, never fear, Rio’s mayor—like any good host at culinary crunch time—has reassured reporters that he’s totally “pretty sure” everything will be ready in time.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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