Pollution of Rio waters to dominate IOC meeting

Raw sewage and high levels of bacteria have been found in the sea and rowing lake

Concerns over preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympics are set to dominate this week’s meeting of the International Olympic Committee’s executive board.

Brazil is facing a financial crisis while several international federations have told the IOC they have serious concerns, including issues over the quality of the water in the sea and rowing lake in the Brazilian city.

In August, 13 of the 40-strong USA rowing team came down with stomach illness at the world junior championships in Rio – a test event for next summer’s Olympics – with the team doctor expressing suspicions it was due to pollution in the lagoon where the competition took place.

British rowers competing in Rio in the summer were warned not to splash the water or jump in at the end of races, or to swim in the sea during free time. A German sailor, Erik Heil, was treated in hospital for the flesh-eating bacteria MRSA shortly after sailing in a test event in Rio’s Guanabara Bay in August. An Associated Press investigation revealed evidence of raw sewage in the water in July.


The financial climate is also a problem for Brazil with the value of its currency – the real – dropping significantly, which has impacted on its Olympic-related spending in foreign markets. Cuts to the Olympic programme are likely, and meanwhile Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is also facing impeachment by opposition politicians for allegedly breaching public finance laws.

The number and quality of test events has also raised eyebrows among some international federations. For example, what was intended to be an international equestrian event had to be downgraded to a domestic event after organisers failed to address the issues surrounding bringing in horses from overseas.

However, a positive is that Rio 2016 organisers should be able to report they are on schedule in terms of infrastructure, accommodation and transport.

The IOC executive board will hear a report from Sir Craig Reedie, the president of the World Anti-Doping Association, on the doping crisis which has seen Russia declared non-compliant with the world anti-doping code.

It follows an investigation by Wada’s independent commission headed by Dick Pound which found evidence of systemic, state-sponsored doping in Russia. The country has since been banned from international athletics and now has to prove it has made the necessary changes before it can be readmitted both to the sport and declared compliant by Wada.

Exclusion from the Rio Olympics appears unlikely however. The IOC president, Thomas Bach, said in November he expects Russia will comply with doping regulations in time for its athletes to compete at next year’s Games.