Although excitement for the 2016 Summer Olympics has reached a high level, serious health concerns have overshadowed the spectacle. Specifically, the waterways in and around Rio are loaded with sewage and trash, creating a health hazard for Olympic athletes.
But it gets worse.
Remember that $2 billion cleanup project that was supposed to leave 80% of Guanabara Bay ready to go for the games? Well, it “will not happen,” according to the Environmental Secretary of Rio State, André Corrêa. This is because the government stripped the promised budget by an astounding 95%, leaving Rio with a meager sum of money to improve the situation. To make matters worse, experts estimate that the project would have taken far too long to complete anyway.
So, what exactly does this mean for the athletes?
For starters, swimming in raw sewage poses obvious dangers to athletes’ health. An AP investigation concluded that Olympic athletes competing in certain waterways “are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses…measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.” Moreover, these athletes are at increased risk of contracting “an acute respiratory disease, typhoid, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery, or ear infections,” according to a commercial and environmental testing laboratory in New York.
How do athletes protect themselves from these inherent risks? Unfortunately, the available precautions are few and far between. Athletes are being told to avoid swallowing water, cover open cuts, and wash after exposure to the polluted waters. These remedies are like telling a football player not to get dirt on his uniform – basically impossible. The US rowing team is taking matters into their own hands by sporting antimicrobial and seamless uniforms to minimize contact with pollutants, although it’s not an end-all-be-all solution.
Swimmers, rowers, and sailors navigating the waterways of Rio all will have to put their health at risk in an attempt to return home with the gold. All we can do is hope that the athletes’ impeccable health will serve them well during this years’ Summer Olympics.