Torben Grael: Opportunity Lost for Guanabara Bay
Published on May 12th, 2016
When Rio de Janeiro was selected to host the 2016 Olympic Games, hometown hero Torben Grael had high hopes, but can only be disappointed now.
First, the Star class got removed from the Games, a revered event for Rio sailors and one where he earned four of his five Olympic medals. Then the once in-a-lifetime chance to clean polluted Guanabara Bay, the venue for Olympic sailing, appears now to be lost too.
When it appeared last summer that the clean-up up would not come in time for the Games, Torben still had hopes that the Olympics would ultimately improve this systemic problem.
“Even if it’s not 100%, we hope we can put together the agreements (to finish the cleanup),” Grael said then. “That’s what happened in Sydney (2000 Olympics). The harbor wasn’t the way they wanted for the Games but all the agreements were in place. If we can have something similar to that, it would be something to celebrate.”
However, now with Zika, recession, and political scandal impacting his country, he sees the Olympics as an opportunity lost.
“We always hoped that having a big event like the games would help,” Torben Grael recently told Canada’s CBC television. “We ourselves put a lot of pressure to make it happen, but unfortunately it didn’t happen when they had money. And now they don’t have money, and so it’s even worse.”
Grael has sailed for years in Guanabara Bay and hoped the Olympics would prompt a wholesale clean up.
“I don’t think we’re going to see that change now,” Grael said. “It’s part of the way politics administration goes here. Everything grows very quick and very disorganized.”
The state is responsible for maintaining the bay, which has been described as an open sewer by many local and foreign sailors. The International Olympic Committee, backed by the World Health Organization, has repeatedly said athletes are not at risk.
“I don’t think you’re going to get sick,” Grael said. “It just looks terrible.”
Many athletes are expected to arrive in Rio in advance to build up immunity. Others will come in just days before, hoping to minimize the impact. Many will take antibiotics, bring bleach to cleanse equipment, and try to minimize contact with the water.
“You know the garbage can slow your boat and that’s not good,” Grael added. “I think they’re going to be careful collecting the garbage in the racing areas, but that’s going to be just for the games and after the games it’s going to be what we know. We thought we could have some change, some legacy there. But it’s not going to happen, unfortunately.”