Olympians could literally be swimming in sh*t

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“Swimming in sh*t” sounds like a figurative expression to mean not doing very well, but it’s actually an objective description of what will most likely happen at the summer 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Apparently, anyone who knows anything about Rio knows its waterways, including the Guanabara Bay, are notoriously filthy. Like Mexico’s sailing coach Agustin Bellocchio said, “Everyone knows this bay is badly contaminated.” His advice to his athletes? “Don’t swallow the water.” Like many other fast-growing cities in so-called “developing nations,” Rio only treats a small percentage of its sewage. According to the Associated Press, raw human waste streams through open-air ditches leading to rivers that feed the Olympic water sites. The water there really does smell like sh*t. Activists, claiming that the water problem is the result of decades of neglect and irresponsible urban administration, have long called for better sanitation services. At one point they even protested by sitting on toilets on the beach and placing coffins there to symbolize the death of Guanabara Bay.

To counter the long-standing and well-known reputation about Rio’s sewage-infested waters, and thus to win the bid to host the Olympics, Brazil promised to do a little cleanup in time for the games. In 2009, officials went so far as to claim they would set “a new standard of water quality preservation for the next generations.” But after an Associated Press investigation demonstrated that the waters were still full of sewage, the “new standard” promised by officials may in fact simply be a record low for water quality at the Olympics. I don’t recall, in any case, Olympians swimming in turd water at any previous competition.

In their damning article about Rio from July 2015, the AP stated that “athletes in next year’s Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games.” According to some tests conducted by the AP, the level of disease-causing viruses is more than a million times the level considered dangerous on a Southern California beach. The AP thus concludes that “Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses.” The word “Olympic” conjures mythic grandeur and tradition, but the most mythic thing at these games might just be the amount of vomit and diarrhea the athletes will suffer from.

Of course, the International Olympic Committee and the Brazilian government both claim that the water is good to go, ready to be swum and sailed in. The thing is, they are only testing for bacteria, and not for viruses. Unluckily for Olympic athletes, and perhaps to the great surprise of the IOC and the government, the viruses contained human feces, which they have failed to test, are actually not a great thing to swim in.

Instead of pretending like they and their waters aren’t full of sh*t, maybe the IOC officials in Brazil should consider a new sport: professional poo diving, a real job in the Australian sewage industry.

Marcus Wade loves to surf the Internet, drink coffee and travel. He loves meeting new people and having interesting conversations about art, politics and society.

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