When sailors enter their boats into the waters of Guanabara Bay during the Olympic 2016 race, they will have far more than just the other competitors to worry about.
The bay, like several of Rio’s beaches, is extremely polluted, filled with floating mounds of dead animals, trash and human sewage. Last month, it was reported that the water contained drug-resistant “super bacteria” capable of inflicting nasty, lethal infections in humans.
When the race site was first announced, the city promised a completely clean Guanabara Bay, free of health- and race-obstructing pollution. Since that deadline faltered months ago, the Associated Press reports that the city will resort to using helicopters and a fleet of eco-boats to clear the bay of debris.
These patrols will reportedly start at 6 a.m. every morning before the races begin to keep the bay as clear as possible. These cleaning methods are not foolproof, and the head of World Sailing, the international government body for the sport, says they aren’t willing to risk Olympians’ health.
“We will take tough decisions,” World Sailing CEO Andy Hunt told the AP. “If we go out and we’re not confident that a field of play can be absolutely clear, it will be moved. If there are no safe racing areas, we will just postpone racing until we can get confident.”
Last week, bright white boats entering Guanabara later came back smeared with slicks of brown oil, inciting one sailor to comment that a returning vessel resembled a dirty toilet bowl.
As the city prepares for the start of the games in less than a month, its pollution is far from just environmental. Check out our recent features on Rio’s corrupt police force and Brazil’s fiery political climate to understand why citizens are taking to the streets to declare the games a “calamity.”