Sailors competing in the Summer Olympics have long treasured the opportunity to compete on the world stage. While conquering Mother Nature’s natural forces, these fixated elite athletes seemingly glide their dinghy, laser, and sailboard crafts on challenging courses – often on seas many miles away from the heart of the Olympics.
Enter the Rio Olympics whose sailing environs have rocked the sport beyond compare – to the extent that the International Sailing Federation has churned through three controversial leadership changes in just six months. On Tuesday, the former CEO Pete Sowrey railed against his departure in December.
As part of its winning proposal in 2009, the Rio Olympics Organizing Committee touted the local Guanabara Bay as an ideal site for this intriguing sport. After all, with a backdrop of the world famous Sugarloaf Mountain overlook, and the Corcovado Mountain’s alluring Christ the Redeemer statue, sailing surely would be a fan favorite in Rio de Janeiro. Further, the committee assured the IOC voters that this polluted bay would be cleaned-up, to the tune of an 80% improvement, at this picturesque site. Gone would be the garbage, sewage, and waste clogging the sea.
As envisioned, thousands of fans would be beckoned to this picturesque bay to watch confident seafarers guide their colorful craft gracefully over beautiful waters.
Fast forward six years to the ominous 2016 Summer Olympics sailing test events held in Guanabara Bay last August. Athlete’s visions of competing in clean waters, and connecting as one with just the natural currents were quickly jolted back to reality. At the time, Rio de Janeiro government officials admitted that the cursed 80% goal could not be attained.
Just before the event, the Associated Press reported findings from a recent unbiased study of water quality in the Guanabara Bay. The published results revealed abnormally high levels of disease causing viruses and bacteria. Many competitors fended off such flu-like symptoms as fever, headaches, and diarrhea following this tournament, while others required hospitalization including one German sailor who was treated for a damnable flesh-eating MRSA infection in Berlin.
Sowrey, with just one month as the CEO under his belt, lobbied in August for additional viral-based testing of these waters whose results would fuel the federation to consider shifting its Olympic courses to cleaner, healthier waters.
Surprisingly, just four months later, the federation announced his resignation without much explanation. Sowery has just spoken out about his diabolical ouster. Looking back, he said in a Guardian interview, I was told to gag myself on the subject (of a venue change). The board felt I was way too aggressive. They basically voted me out.”
Responding to the call of the ocean, Australian sailor Mat Belcher takes a befitting tack. The London Olympics gold medalist said, “The great thing about Rio is the diversity of the conditions and also the diversity of the different race areas.”
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