Brazil’s Olympic Environmental Woes

The Olympics are fast approaching and there is a lot of controversy around what Brazil has been doing to prepare for this summer’s games. In addition to other reasons, they have drawn criticism for their ability to provide a clean environment for the athletes.

The Rio water systems, the site of several different competitions, have been described as appalling. Conditions include dead animals, raw sewage, and all manner of debris and trash. Rio has claimed to be doing its best to clean it up and regular testing of the waters occurs but actual cleaning of the water has stalled out many times over the past few decades. In addition, Brazil is suffering from a recession – “Rio’s state government, which is responsible for the Guanabara Bay’s clean-up, is struggling”. Because of the recession, cleaning up these waters is a much more difficult thing to accomplish, especially when the government is also racing to contain the Zika outbreak.

Several developed nations have fallen short in the past but none have sported waters as dirty as Rio has. Athletes from around the world have expressed worries about competing in these waters. The vast majority have elected to compete anyways. “The risk is less tangible than the possible reward”. The chance of competing in the Olympic games is a much bigger draw than the potential to get sick. These waters have hosted competitions in the past as well. While there is no clear evidence that the water has directly caused any illnesses, several swimmers in these competitions have come down with conditions that have caused hospitalizations and prevented athletes from competing in the future. For most participants, they take the proper precautions and nothing happens to them but the threat is present.

Brazil’s sports minister said the water won’t be clean for the Olympics and cites “a dire Brazilian economy” as the reason. Thought the athletes might be under pressures to compete in the dirty water, many have stated that it isn’t really the athletes that should draw the bulk of the pity; it is the 6 million people that live in Rio that see and experience these polluted waters on a daily basis. Though they might not be ready for the Olympics, perhaps this attention will help authorities clean up the water going forward.