Thursday 13 December 2018

Rio struggling to clear mess as last-minute worries pile up

Waste litters the water as a sailor prepares for a training session at Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay yesterday. Photo: Getty
Waste litters the water as a sailor prepares for a training session at Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay yesterday. Photo: Getty

Matt Gatward

It is not a mess entirely of their own making.

The organisers of the Rio Games could hardly have predicted that Russia would indulge in doping on such an unprecedented and clandestine scale.

The Brazilian Olympic Committee cannot have foreseen the 'Disappearing Positive Methodoloy', that table salt would be added to urine samples to cover up positive tests, that FSB agents would pose as sewage workers to gain access to labs after hours, that mouse holes would be used to remove evidence.

And they cannot have known that when such vile acts were uncovered, the International Olympic Committee would fudge the Russia issue, bottle a blanket ban, and allow confusion to rule over who can, who can't, who will and who won't compete in Rio.


The IOC said last Sunday it would appoint a panel of board members who would decide on the participation of individual athletes - by Friday. Which is handy - that's when the Games begin.

But while the IOC, WADA and Russia play the blame game (which might as well become an Olympic event), BOC has last-minute issues of its own and questions to answer.

It can't be blamed for the Zika virus, which has dominated the build-up, thanks largely to the stay-away golfers, but cannot sidestep some culpability for other hiccups.

Sailing needs an urgent bail-out after the main ramp at Marina da Gloria port collapsed into the water last Sunday, just five days before the Opening Ceremony.

A spokesman said high tides and stormy seas had done the damage and that "it would be wrong to make a great deal of the incident". Easy to say as no one was hurt - but what if it happened a week later with competitors on it?

Poor weather over the weekend also left areas of Copacabana Beach - site of the volleyball arena and television studios - flooded.

The forecast is good for the next few days and the ramp will be repaired, but these are hardly reassuring developments on the eve of the Games.

If it's not things falling into the sea or the sea getting where it shouldn't be, the quality of the water the marathon swimmers and sailors are being asked to perform in is causing huge reasons for concern.

An Associated Press report claims that contamination levels are dangerously high due to human waste, raw sewage and human remains in the water despite clean-up promises going back decades.

The report states that "rivers are tar-black; the lagoons near the Olympic Park… have fluorescent green algae that thrives amid sewage; fishermen's wooden boats sink into thick sludge in the Guanabara Bay; surfers paddle amid a giant brown stain…"

It is not pleasant reading - and it won't be pleasant swimming. Tourists have been warned to avoid donning the Speedos and jumping into the sea off Copacabana or Ipanema. A sorry message indeed.

The state of the Athletes' Village is not up to scratch either with the man charged with making sure the 3,600 beds are made and everything is spick and span paying with his job last week.

Some areas are better than others - Team GB has no complaints - but Team Australia have taken up hotel accommodation.

The Australian team chief, Kitty Chiller, said the Village was "uninhabitable" and "not safe or ready" after they encountered wiring, gas, electricity and plumbing problems.

Late construction is still happening at certain others venues across Rio too.

So are these incidents just the usual last-minute nerves? Or will the Olympics paper over the cracks of a country in political turmoil, with vast sociological, environmental and economic problems? We will find out over the next three weeks.

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