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Brazilian men’s RS:X sailboarding finalist Ricardo Santos slammed the Rio de Janeiro state government for failing to keep promises to find lasting solutions to water pollution on Guanabara Bay, the beautiful but often stunningly filthy Olympic sailing venue.
Speaking after the end of the men’s RS:X final on Sunday that left him off the podium in seventh overall, he praised the quality of the Olympic sailing competition, but also cautioned that the lack of floating garbage and clearer-than-expected waters was likely due more to luck than any lasting solution.
“I give the organizers a perfect 10, even the garbage co-operated,” said Santos, 36, who grew up sailing on the bay. “Very little was done in relation to the cleaning up of Guanabara Bay. These clean waters we’ve seen in recent days aren’t real. Unfortunately, in a week it will all be polluted again.”
Water pollution has been a hot topic in Rio and has dogged Games organizers since they were awarded hosting rights seven years ago.
Promises to clean up the bay by building new sewers and sewage treatment plants and collecting tons of garbage washed into it by rain remain largely unmet, raising concern athletes might fall ill or that trash and other flotsam might damage or catch on boats, undermining fair competition.
Studies have found high levels of disease-causing pathogens in the bay, but Rio’s organizing committee and World Sailing, the sport’s governing body, say daily government tests show the waters are within World Health Organization limits for safe “primary contact” such as swimming. Sailing is considered less-risky “secondary contact.”
The state government has built trash barriers on local rivers and hired a fleet of boats to scoop up garbage. The government, however, is broke, having trouble paying employees or staffing hospitals and had to beg for federal government loans to pay for the Games.
Patricia Freitas, Brazilian sailing teammate in the RS:X women’s class, hopes that all the pre-game criticism will push Brazilians to demand a bigger and faster cleanup, perhaps along the line of Sydney after the 2000 Olympics.
“During competition the water was perfect,” she said of the Rio Games. “But the measures aren’t permanent. Sydney was the same, they complained that the water was dirty, and didn’t fix it in time for the Olympics.”
In the end, though, the criticism raised awareness and Sydney’s water is much better now, she added.