Today on the Nose, we love the Olympics; but we also know them to be soiled, by doping and by the corruption that inevitably accompanies picking a location.
But, as Juliet Macur aptly explains, even the latest round of doping scandals — which point at cheating that is even more widespread than we might have previously expected — will not dissuade us. Olympics = Brokeback. We can’t quit them.
Still, the Brazil Olympics, which begin in 79 days, might be different. The pollution is so severe as to constitute not one but a daunting array of health threats to the athletes. That’s a long article. A few lowlights:
[Biologist] Mario Moscatelli stands astern, holding a Canon camera with a long lens. He points it at the water’s surface when he sees floating objects that appear to have the color and consistency of fecal matter. “S—. S—. A lot of s—,” he says later on camera, hitting the consonants like a snare drum….[A microbiologist’s] concern ramped up after reading a 2014 scientific journal article that said strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — types normally found in hospital settings, the same ones she studies in the lab — had been found in single water samples taken from two Rio beaches, Flamengo and Botafogo. “They underwent genetic mutations to become resistant,” Vega says. “I always tell students, ‘You know, they’re much smarter than we are. They want to preserve their species.'”
And a paper trail:
Outside the Lines obtained a confidential U.S. Olympic Committee planning document written in October 2015 that states, “The USOC has ongoing concerns over possible existing viral and bacterial contaminants in the water. … The USOC remains hopeful, but we do not expect to anticipate major reductions [italics are the USOC’s] in bacterial or viral pathogen levels at the competition venues.
“There is currently no way to ‘zero out’ the risk of infection or illness when competition occurs in any water, and especially in Rio waters,” the document states.
Well, you get the picture:
[Olympic windsurfer] van Rijsselberghe called the conditions in Rio “disgustingly filthy and dangerous” in a blog written after he won the Copa Brasil de Vela event in Guanabara Bay in December…
“Raw sewage. The athletes do not talk about it. … They are not there to challenge the world’s environmental issues. But the athletes are all concerned and deeply worried…The contrast between Rio’s topographic beauty and the horrors in its waters shocked van Rijsselberghe in his first race there in 2013. “We had to slalom through the water to avoid plastic garden chairs, a refrigerator, [dead] animals,” he says in a phone interview. He saw fewer large floating objects this time and knows of no Dutch athlete who got sick, but he is still disturbed by the conditions. “It’s not as simple as putting a few filters here or there,” he says.
And that was before the extent of the Zika problem became understood:
But for the Games, would anyone recommend sending an extra half a million visitors into Brazil right now? Of course not: mass migration into the heart of an outbreak is a public health no-brainer. And given the choice between accelerating a dangerous new disease or not—for it is impossible that Games will slow Zika down—the answer should be a no-brainer for the Olympic organizers too. Putting sentimentality aside, clearly the Rio 2016 Games must not proceed.
There are multiple equity issues at stake, ranging from the article’s speculation that wealthy Olympic tourists will bring Zika home to poorer populations in countries lacking sufficient treatment resources to the reality that women athletes and journalists will bear disproportionate risk at these games.
Meanwhile, Brazil has at least $25 billion in sunk costs — a splurge whose benefits are unlikely to make it back to the favelas.