Raw shit in Brazil waters


The report in The Times last week about the raw sewage in the waters off Rio de Janeiro, in which Olympic swimmers, sailors and windsurfers will be competing, shocked the senses.
Marathon swimmers will be literally churning through human waste, said one physician; sailors have to keep their mouths closed when they are hit with spray, said a member of the Dutch sailing team.
Coming on top of the Zika epidemic, reports of terrible conditions in the Olympic Village, low ticket sales, police violence, a suspended president facing impeachment and a Russian team depleted by the doping scandal, the news of the contaminated waters certify that the Rio Olympics will be one of the most disorderly and woebegone in the 120 years since the modern Games began in Athens.
Though Rio’s waters and fabled beaches are central to the celebrated image of the city, they have long been known as the dumping ground for much of the untreated sewage and trash generated by the region’s 12 million inhabitants. The Times article by Andrew Jacobs cited recent tests by environmentalists and scientists that found the level of contamination, including pathogens ranging from rotaviruses that can cause diarrhea and vomiting to drug-resistant “superbacteria” that can cause death, to be far worse than previously suspected.
In its bid for the Games seven years ago, Brazil pledged to spend $4 billion to attack the problem, but in the end the state spent just $170 million. Most of that money was spent collecting trash and blocking sludge and debris, which did little to stop bacteria and viruses.
With the Aug. 5 opening ceremony just around the corner, the foul waters are obviously not one of the problems organizers can still hope to resolve before the Games begin, and the athletes who choose to compete in them will just have to accept the risks. But this and the other woes facing the Rio Games do pose a question: Why do cities and countries so ardently court the extraordinary demands, expenses and security dangers of the Olympics?
There seems to be an enduring faith that the global exposure provided by the Games will benefit tourism, local pride and a city’s fortunes, while authoritarian governments like China’s or Russia’s perceive a huge propaganda bonanza. A cursory look back through several decades of Games hardly supports such enthusiasm. It took Montreal (1976) three decades to pay off its Olympic debt, during which time the main Olympic stadium came to be known as the Big Owe; many venues in Athens (2004) remain largely useless; and the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, which cost over $51 billion, arguably only damaged Vladimir Putin’s image abroad.
Yet there is no argument that Olympic gold remains the ultimate dream of many athletes, or that however negative the publicity before the Games open — and there has always been plenty of that — they invariably attract vast global audiences.
So there is every reason to expect that once the Rio Games open, spectators will plunge into their biennial feast of obscure sports and moving human-interest stories. Let’s hope visitors take precautions to avoid Zika infection, the police behave, President Dilma Rousseff’s problems do not distract from the athletes’ accomplishments, participants cope with the housing, Russians win a few honest medals, and aquatic Olympians seeking glory in open waters do not get too sick. 

Culled from www.nytimes.com

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