Unsafe Water – Rio Olympics

Today many of the news media is buzzing with ‘Don’t put your head under water’ while in Rio.

The Olympics is less than a week away and the waters of Rio are infested with human sewage, bacteria and viruses. Correct, I am talking about the water venues where open water competitions are to take place and putting around 1,400 athletes at health risk.

I have been keeping a close eye since the Associated Press (AP) published its first report in June 2015 on water quality of the open water venues for the Olympics. The findings were quite disconcerting – the analysis of the water samples indicates high contamination with bacteria, viruses and sewage. I know for sure, this amount of contamination in the US water bodies would have been deemed unfit for any kind of water sport, let alone Olympics. Initially it was thought the hazards were closer to the shore, but by Dec. 2015 it was confirmed that the hazards were off the shores too. Some even feel water concerns in Rio is overblown, and I truly hope that is the case.

The latest AP report that just came out is equally concerning, nothing much has changed in past year since the last report. None of the ‘promises’ made by the authorities to improve the water quality were kept. Of course, the athletes have taken all possible precautions, including antibiotics and anti-viral medicines. Is it fair to make the athletes compete in unsafe waters when they have worked hard and built their dreams around representing their countries in Olympics?

I am passionate about making water sport safe. I am not talking about only safety against drowning, but also safety from health hazards. Growing up in the US, we take the water quality for granted. All open water bodies I have been to have safety hazards clearly posted.

Considering the IOC awarded 2016 Olympics Rio in Oct. 2009, the Olympics authorities and Brazilian government had enough time to address the water quality issue. I strongly urge the IOC to use this as a learning opportunity and put some checks and balances in place for countries prior to awarding Olympic Games in future. We want our athletes to showcase their talents in hygienic environments.

My best wishes to the athletes competing to their full potential and come out of the water unscathed and their dreams fulfilled.

– Meghna Sil

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