Filthy Water in Rio Olympic Lagoon

Photo: FISA
Photo: FISA

On 30 July, the Associated Press (AP) released an article about the present health risk with the waters where the Rio Olympic water sports are going to be held next summer. An investigation by AP found dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from sewage at the sites where the Olympic water sports, including rowing, will take place at the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon.

The AP article can be read here (published by The New York Times).

The World Rowing Federation, FISA, replied quickly to the AP article. FISA wrote the following response on 31 July:

FISA, the World Rowing Federation, has read the article released yesterday by the Associated Press on the water quality of the Rio 2016 Olympic rowing regatta course, Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in Rio, Brazil. 

FISA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Rio2016 (Rio Olympic Organising Committee) have been in regular contact to evaluate the situation in the Lagoon and have been following the guidance of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in determining the level of risk for rowing in the lagoon. The WHO recommended standard for water quality is the coliform count, specifically the e-coli count which is a bacterial evaluation also used by the Brazilian authorities.

Independently, FISA has also contacted experts for their advice which has also been to follow the coliform and e-coli measurements. Based on the results of the testing, according to the WHO standards, there is no significant additional risk to athlete health.

The Rio government has been conducting testing twice a week for many years and has transparently published all results on a public website. Measurements take place in six locations around the lagoon. A large amount of work has already been undertaken to improve the situation of the Lagoon. These efforts will lead to a good legacy from the Rio Olympic Games for the users of the lagoon for many years to come.

FISA’s event team is in regular contact with the daily users of the lagoon, many of whom have rowed on the lagoon without problems for years. But FISA is not complacent and has been seeking information and testing results since the bid was awarded. The FISA Sports Medicine Commission is also in regular contact with the IOC Medical Department which has been following this since the attribution of the Olympic Games to Rio. The monitoring testing of the lagoon has been increased to every second day during the month of July leading up to the 2015 World Rowing Junior Championships which take place next week.

Upon reading this new information from the AP, FISA immediately made contact through Rio2016 with the Brazilian Health Authorities and the WHO as well as other experts about the significance of the viral findings of the AP. FISA considers that every piece of information is important.

FISA can assure all competitors and officials that this is being taken extremely seriously because athlete health is FISA’s first concern. FISA will continue to monitor this situation closely.

With a year to go until the Olympic Games open, let’s hope that the Rio Government has managed to improve the water quality dramatically in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. However, good advice for the participants from the 54 countries competing in the Junior World Championships, which starts today on Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, would be: don’t capsize – and if you do, keep your mouth closed!

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