It was about the Racing, Not the Water

Published on August 18th, 2016

by Gary Jobson
For months leading up to the Games, several major newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today, published articles about the terrible water off Rio. ESPN (Disclaimer: I spent 31 years on ESPN’s payroll) also broadcast several reports about the dirty water on television and the radio. I have spoken to many people around the venue, including sailors, coaches and race officials. There had not been a single complaint or protest regarding trash in the water.

The health authorities that have been monitoring the water quality for World Sailing, the governing body of the sport (second disclaimer: I serve on the Board of Directors) had reported that the water offshore is clean. In March, the sewage normally emitted from a pipe at the Marina da Gloria was redirected to a treatment plant.

Each day a helicopter was launched to search for debris. If they saw a log or something near any of the race courses, an “Eco boat” would go and pick it up. I would actually describe the Eco boats as garbage scows. You can see the water along the shoreline, and it is clear. The sailors have no problem jumping in after winning medals. Many young people swim off the beach. There was one report of a female sailor being ill, but she recovered and sailed the next day.

I am very sensitive about water quality. I grew up sailing (and swimming) in Barnegat Bay on the New Jersey coast. For over 30 years, a Swiss company named Ciba-Geigy dumped lethal residue into the Toms River. At one stage, the river was closed to swimmers in the early 1960s. But we kept sailing. Ciba-Geigy’s solution to the problem was to build a pipe that discharged the sludge 1500 feet off the ocean beach. Eventually, their plant was declared a polluted superfund cleanup site.

Many of my friends and classmates have been diagnosed with cancer. I had my own two-year battle with Lymphoma. While it might be difficult to prove, I believe Ciba’s irresponsible chemical production was the cause of my cancer.

So I hope you understand that I am very sensitive to “dirty water.” I doubt we will read any articles that the Rio water quality warnings were overblown, but the water off Rio was better than anyone indicated.

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