Olympics: Singapore sailors wary of Rio’s troubled waters

TODAY reports: Singapore’s eight Olympic-bound sailors are taking precautions, after disease-causing viruses linked to human sewage was found in Rio’s Guanabara Bay.

Seven different vaccination jabs – that is just one of several precautionary measures the Singapore Sailing Federation (SSF) has lined up for the Republic’s eight Olympic-bound sailors, following reports of polluted waters at their competition venue for next year’s Games at Rio de Janeiro.

Reports have emerged of possible harm the sewage-infested waters at the otherwise scenic venue at Guanabara Bay – set against the backdrop of Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer – could have on athletes participating at the venue for the Aug 5 to 21 Games.

SSF told TODAY that it is paramount that they take the necessary precautions to ensure the Republic’s sailors, who are ramping up preparations for the quadrennial event, do not succumb to illness that will derail their Olympic dream.

Besides the need to administer the different jabs, SSF president Ben Tan, who is also a member of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Medical Commission, said that other measures in place include cleansing immediately with a strong anti-bacterial soap right after coming out of the water, and having water bottles stored in cooler tanks on the boats to avoid contamination. Also, sailors are advised to close their mouths while out at sea to avoid consuming any of the polluted water.

Some of the Singapore sailors have already visited the Olympic sailing venue, which will also host the rowing and canoeing events. They have started practising the hygiene measures as recommended by the SSF’s appointed doctor, Dr Darren Leong from the Changi Sports Medicine Centre.

“We have been keeping track of the conditions over at the bay for a long time and we have a medical strategy in place to prevent illnesses,” said Tan. “Darren has been updated on the race conditions, and he has been keeping tabs for our sailors. We want the care of our Olympic sailors to be centralised and Darren (has been) drafting the medical guidelines and policies.”

To avoid the additional hygiene measures becoming a burden on the Singapore sailors, the athletes have also started incorporating them into their training. “By the time Olympics come, they can keep cool, act accordingly, and turn it into their advantage while other sailors (may) get stressed out,” said Tan.

Singapore’s Nacra 17 sailors, Justin Liu and Denise Lim, were at Guanabara Bay last week for the Copa Brasil de Vela, and stayed healthy throughout the regatta. But Lee Shu Xian (women’s 470) came down with a stomach flu. The Singaporeans were lucky. Sailors from other countries who have participated at the venue for past pre-Olympic and test events had it worse.

South Korean windsurfer Cho Wonwoo, for one, was taken to hospital with dehydration, vomiting, and dizziness, while German sailor Erik Heil was treated for skin infections.

Though the Singapore sailors generally reported a clean bill of health, Liu is not keeping his defences down.

“The water quality is quite bad, a little black, so it can really mess up anyone’s race if you’re not careful,” the 24-year-old told TODAY in a phone interview from Brazil. “It is quite worrying as you can’t really avoid contact with the water.

“The amount of rubbish is also an issue. We had races where we had all sorts of things caught on to our boat, and were lucky that we managed to avoid fallen trees and logs, which would have caused some damage. Outside the bay in the open water, it gets cleaner. Hopefully, these things won’t be an issue come the Olympics.”

Results from recent tests on the water reportedly showed more contamination than previously believed. In July, it was reported disease-causing viruses directly linked to human sewage in the water were at levels 1.7 million times more than what would be considered highly alarming in the United States or in Europe.

Brazil has vowed to meet its target of reducing the pollution in the bay by 80 per cent when the 2016 Olympics come around, and is in a race against time to do so.

“I wouldn’t call it disappointing that the competition venue turned out this way. The organisers have put in a lot of effort to clean up the space,” said SSF performance manager Chua Tan Ching. “Contamination of the waters in Rio did not come overnight. It has been years, and to change something like that, we need a 180-degree ecological upheaval.

“We just have to keep our guard up on our part, and our sailors will compete healthily.”

Source: Channel News Asia