What Forces Keeps Olympic Sailing in Guanabara Bay in 2016?

What is the overall goal of the Olympics?

  • To bring nations together in peace, to demonstrate the finest talents their athletes demonstrate: In Latin it is Citius – Altius – Fortius, in English it means Faster – Higher – Stronger.
  • To provide fair competition is a tremendous amount of effort to assure no athlete is slighted.  That everyone has an equal chance of winning with equal conditions, and the only difference being the athletes strength and talents.

We all remember the disaster in the 2000 Olympics when the vault pommel horse was set 2″ low that greatly affected the outcome of the women’s competition.  The incorrectly adjusted vault pommel horse clearly affected the outcome, and was not a fair contest.

So what does this have to do with sailing in the Olympic Games in  Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016?

During practice in Guanabara Bay over the past few years, some sailors have become sick with the greatest suspicion of cause being the untreated sewage filled water.  Some sailors boats have run into debris in the water, with some simply crashed to a stop and the other competitors have sailed right past them, for others this caused their boats to capsize allowing competitors to pass them.

This provides an unfair field of play, no different than a vault horse set 2″ too low.

How these risk factors are accepted by the International Olympic Committee, International Sailing Federation, or any Member National Authority is beyond reproach.

But here are justifications I’ve seen for leaving sailing in the polluted waters of Rio:

  • That picture perfect postcard – Rio wishes to spotlight their city, imagine the picture of 300 sailors racing their boats with Sugarloaf mountain in the backdrop and Christ the Redeemer statute on top.
  • The racing courses are situated just inside and just outside of Guanabara Bay.  As the ocean currents pass by the mouth of the bay, the ocean waters are mainly clean.  This allows the outside racing area to be cleaner than those inside the bay.  With a 2.3′ high tide that goes in and out twice daily, this flushes the water in the inside the bay racing area diluting the pollution effects.  But a major rain storm changes this quickly ruining both the inside and outside courses, even with August (the period of the Games) being the normal dry season.
  • My uncle, Dr. Jack McCarthy, MD, was the head of the Lovelace Bataan Medical Clinic in Albuquerque, NM and an oncology specialist.  I shared with him the conditions of Guanabara Bay, and his response is as follows: “It sounds horrible; but you are sure. I doubt that anyone with compromised immune system would be sailing. They more probably would be sitting quietly on a chair, avoiding the sun. Almost certainly the immunizations plus the antibiotics would do the job. Humans have lived with feces for millenniums.  Esthetics is a separate issue.”
  • Rio keeps promising that the race course will be cleared of debris when the Games arrive.
  • Rio has promised to take responsibility for any athlete who may become sick.
  • State water-quality numbers starting in 1980 and reviewed by Reuters show the Olympic sailing areas have, on average, been rated “Excellent” or “Satisfactory” since 2005.
  • Rio has been building housing for the athletes in Rio.
  • Rio has planned the logistics of moving competitors and food.
  • Rio built the sailing harbor where boats are launched and retrieved daily.
  • Rio has planned the necessary security.

The Member National Authorities (the sailing organizations responsible for producing Olympians to represent their countries) have invested in the Guanabara Bay site over the past years including:

  • Weather monitoring studying the wind, shifts and strength.
  • Current, and tide studies to learn where water movement can help or hurt their athletes.
  • Some have purchased team housing used for the past few years.
  • Coaches have been gathering data and techniques unique to Guanabara Bay and training the athletes.

They have no interest in starting from scratch at a different venue elsewhere in the country that provides clean water.

Maybe we need a new interpretation of “Citius – Altius – Fortius?”  Maybe it means: Disgusting – We Don’t Care About Athletes Health – Money Is Much More Important.


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