2016 Olympic Athletes May Be Forced to Swim in Rio's Poop-Infested Water

2016 Olympic Athletes May Be Forced to Swim in Rio's Poop-Infested Water

In almost one year, spectators and world-class athletes from all over the globe will flock to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, a city that comes with the promise of fresh coconuts on the beach and refreshing dips into an idyllic sea... filled with untreated sewage.

Tested samples of Rio river and sea water had dangerously high levels of bacteria and viruses from untreated sewage being pumped into the waterways that's "so contaminated with human feces that [athletes] risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games," according to an Associated Press investigation published Thursday. 

"What you have there is basically raw sewage," John Griffith, a marine biologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project involved in the investigation, told the Associated Press. The water was tested at four intervals, starting in March.

While both the International Olympic Committee and country officials assure the water will be up to standard for the Olympics, many in the midst of swimming and boating training have already fallen violently ill. 

"This is by far the worst water quality we've ever seen in our sailing careers," Ivan Bulaja, one of Austria's sailing team's coach told the Associated Press. She describes many of her athletes becoming acutely sick with fevers, diarrhea and vomiting.

"The Olympic medal is something that you live your life for," Bulaja said. "And it can really happen that just a few days before the competition you get ill and you're not able to perform at all." Alternatively, athletes could fall severely ill for days at a time, missing out on crucial training time and potentially undermining their performance in the qualifying rounds or the Olympics themselves. 

A boy walks through trash on the water's edge in in Ro de Janeiro.
Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images

In the lead-up to the games, there have been concerns over Brazil's selection that it is too poor and ill equipped to handle an event of this magnitude. "We've become very concerned, to be quite frank," John Coates, vice president of the IOC, said in the Sydney Olympic forum in April, reports Newsweek. "They really are not ready in many, many ways."

Critics have accused the IOC of making a reckless decision, surpassing more economically equipped alternatives like Chicago. The World Cup hosted by Brazil in 2014 was mired in controversy surrounding how dangerous parts of the country hosting matches were for tourists.

While both Brazil and the IOC guarantee the water will be tested, they will only be looking for bacteria, reports the Associated Press. The level of viruses in the tested samples are 1.7 million times higher than some beaches in Southern California would allow. 

For now, it might be advisable for visitors to shower after their relaxing day at the beach.