Sailors take precautions in fear of Rio water

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - International sailors in Brazil for an Olympic test event are taking special supplements and precautionary measures to stop them getting sick during and after the week-long event in Rio de Janeiro’s murky waters, team representatives said on Friday.

Rowers practice at Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 30, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

“We are taking appropriate supplements etcetera to keep immune systems up and I am sure most of the others are doing the same,” Peter Conde, high performance director for the Australian team, told Reuters.

“In terms of sanitary practices, we want to keep hands and bodies clean.”

Conde said his team were especially vigilant following reports of dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria in the waters of Guanabara Bay where sailing, open water swimming and triathlon events will be held during next year’s Olympic Games.

From Saturday, almost 400 sailors from 55 nations will compete in the 10 Olympic sailing events during a week-long regatta.

Six courses will be used, three inside Guanabara Bay and three outside, the International Sailing Federation said.

British and U.S. athletes have also been taking extra supplements, vitamins and probiotics that help to strengthen the stomach and combat possible infections, officials from both teams said.

“We have health and hygiene procedures in place, we wash kit thoroughly, hand hygiene, we disinfect, make sure we do the basics properly,” Lindsey Bell, spokesperson for the British team told Reuters. “You can’t afford to be complacent.

“We’re doing what we always do but there is a constant reminder seeing the reports that you can’t forget.”

Olympic organisers originally promised to cut the amount of raw sewage flowing into the bay by 80 percent in time for the Aug. 5-21 Games next year.

However, they now admit they will not meet that target and have instead vowed to ensure that the race lanes are clean and clear.

That has angered critics who say Rio’s much-trumpeted legacy is being ignored.

Parts of the bay’s coastline is littered with tyres, sofas, trees, branches and all kinds of plastic detritus.

Biologists last year said rivers leading into the bay contained a superbacteria that was resistant to antibiotics that cure urinary, gastrointestinal and pulmonary infections.

Floating debris is of particular concern to Conde, who said areas inside the marina where start and finish lines are situated were particularly hazardous.

“We are just as worried about the debris as the bacteria,” Conde said, adding that the water quality was “poor in some areas such as in the marina where we launch but not so bad in better flushed areas and in incoming tide. It varies greatly.

“Once you are into the swing of doing things it is not that difficult,” he said. “It doesn’t make it any more pleasant but sailing in Rio is fantastic in other ways. But the pollution does detract from it, for sure.”

Editing by Clare Fallon