Brazilian Ricardo Lobato Wants 2016 Olympic Sailing to Stay in Rio

I totally get where Mr. Ricardo Lobato is coming from.  He oozes with national pride, for 8 years has been dreaming of Olympic Sailing happening right where he has sailed for years, and can’t fathom the event being moved from Guanabara Bay to some other site in Brazil.  If the shoe was on the other foot, I too would strike back.  Ricardo Lobato’s letter just happens to be short on proof to substantiate his claims.

The research picked up from the respected news sources brought both scientific and anecdotal evidence that Guanabara Bay cannot assure a “fair contest.”  Guanabara Bay makes some sailors ill from the fetid waters, having boats damaged by running into trash eliminating them from a race or multiple races, or simply being slowed or stopped in the water watching competitors pass by is not what the Olympics is about.

In the two years of news stories there are SIX reports of Olympic Hopeful Sailors who have become ill in Rio de Janeiro, believed to be acquired from the water of Guanabara Bay.  There are NINE reports of boats that have run into debris in the water. Some causing damage, some slowing boats down during races allowing competitors to pass them.  These are the reports that were published, no one is monitoring or requiring that these incidents be reported and tabulated, there could be more.  And you want to say that this is acceptable for the Olympics?  The pinnacle of sailing?  Ricardo Lobato, do you have affidavits from all of those news sources saying they printed erroneous material?

It is terrible that the City of Rio de Janeiro did not capitalize on the Olympics to do a major clean up up Guanabara Bay.  Even the simplest of projects, putting netting at the exits of the rivers to capture solid feces and garbage was tried and failed (called “Stage 1 sewage treatment”).  You say they are planning on trying this again, and just how do any of us expect this to work?

It was too bad that the need to install sewers to homes and buildings in Rio to bring sewage to treatment plants didn’t get accomplished and the wastes continue to get dumped into rivers and streams going into the Bay. At least many bay side garbage dumps were closed, reducing some of the pollution both oozing rotting garbage and floating garbage.  Overall, with eight years to accomplish a major cleanup, the initial proposal completely missed the mark.  And there must be a consequence response by the International Sailing Federation.

Mr. Lobato, of course you wanted Guanabara Bay to succeed.  Of course the excitement and thrill of having the Olympics in your City, near your yacht club, in the waters you have sailed for most of your lifetime is vastly important to you.  Your government officials let you down, and not only you, but the rest of the sailors of the world, the Rio Organizing Committee and the Olympic Movement.  It is a horrible shame that government officials promised the moon and fail to deliver.  But alas, Guanabara Bay has proven not to be capable of keeping sailors health well, and proven not being able to stop debris in the water from slowing boats down in competition, and damaging the boats.  For this, we both know, that Guanabara Bay must be let go, and the sailing must move elsewhere.

I am glad to see that Buzios is your favorite place to sail.  So many others have said that Buzios is where the 2016 Sailing Olympics belong, both your fellow countrymen and other sailors from around the globe.

The Olympics is about the sailor(s).  It is about making sure the absolute best in talent and conditioning, in the absolute fairest conditions being the ones up on the podium having a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal placed around their necks.


Yes, my hometown Chicago bid for the 2016 Olympics and lost to Rio de Janeiro.  But no one is happier about the outcome than me.  The politicians in Chicago, Cook County, and the State of Illinois have been spending more than they take in for decades.  It was clear back when the bid was being assembled that assuming the debt of putting on the Olympics would be crushing to the citizens of the City.  And this past week, Moody’s downgraded Chicago’s bond rating to Junk Status.  We all have seen this coming like two trains on the same track heading at each other full steam for a very long time, even back when the bid package was being assembled.  Adding Olympic debt to Chicago would be the final blow and would have been the final nail in the coffin for Chicago today.  I thank God each day that Chicago did not succeed in hosting the Olympic Games.  We couldn’t afford it.

But it goes farther than this.  I have been promoting the growth of sailing for over three years on Lake Michigan.  Doing things never tried or implemented before.  Anything that attacks sailing, putting sailing into a bad light, frankly is my enemy.  Sailing has it tough enough today.  A study showed that the general public thinks that sailing is “expensive and exclusive.”  Which is false, as I have reported in this blog.  I see the 2016 Olympics as planned currently to change the public’s opinion.  In 2017 sailing will be thought of as “expensive, exclusive and disgusting.”  This doesn’t work for me, makes it harder to grow the sport and damages the reputation of the sport.

One step deeper, being a sailboat racer myself, and having watched participation dwindle over the past 40 years, I have been writing in a sailing publication about the causes.  One of the causes is the Olympics.  Not the event itself per se, but the entire sport has been built on the foundation that eliminating luck, eliminating the game of chance, and making each race about “skill sets” is what is required.  And the weekend warrior, going out for recreation, exercise and fresh air races following the exact same rules as the Olympic Regatta, using the same race official training, and judge training designed for this two week Olympic Regatta every four years for 300 people is turning people off from sailing.  Why?  Because it isn’t fun, it is all about winning and nothing else.

The Olympics are serious business for all athletes.  They aren’t going there for fun, recreation and socialization.  Competitors go there for one thing in mind – to win.  This philosophy is at odds with growing sailing at the amateur level.  To this end, a few years ago I recommended that the Olympic designed rules, be modified for Pleasure Amateur Sailboat Racing and called them the Fun Rules of Sailing.

Is my sailing venue, Lake Michigan, a Saint when it comes to pollution?  No.  On most days the water is pretty good.  But on a handful of days each year it becomes polluted too.  Beaches are shut down for fecal bacteria count.  An oil refinery 18 miles from Chicago had a spill into the Lake last year.  When there are major rainfalls every couple of years, the City of Chicago, or City of Milwaukee, WI release untreated sewage into Lake Michigan for about a 1/2 day in these storms.  However, this is not a daily experience, not monthly and sometimes yearly.  It is disgusting when this happens, and is done mainly for political purposes as well.

Strong winds blow trash left on the ground out into the Lake.  In my 43 years of racing here, have these situations made racers ill?  No.  Have they hampered competition?  Not that I have experienced or heard of.

And Lars Grael reporting he has come across 4 corpses in his years in Guanabara Bay?  Of course this happens worldwide, but in my years, I have never come across a corpse and don’t know of anyone who has on Lake Michigan.  Dead cows, dead horses, dead cats, dead dogs floating in Guanabara Bay is nothing I ever came across having sailed this Lake end to end spending probably close to a year of my life living on the waters of Lake Michigan.

As the entire sport is designed for fairness and has been force fed on all racing sailors worldwide, to interject luck, and the game of chance into the 2016 Olympics is just not in the cards.

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