Olympians Will Be Swimming in Rio's Literal Shit, But It's Even Worse Than We Thought

Fishermen protest contamination in Guanabara Bay on July 3; “Pescador pede socorro” means “fishermen ask for help.” Image via AP.
Fishermen protest contamination in Guanabara Bay on July 3; “Pescador pede socorro” means “fishermen ask for help.” Image via AP.

Each day closer to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, it becomes more astonishing that they haven’t canceled this frickin’ thing. In addition to the havoc it’s wreaked on actual citizens of Rio, there’s the dead people, the Zika, the lack of infrastructure, the lack of hospitals and, as the New York Times has more on today, the fact that Olympians will compete in water filled with actual human feces.


Shit! Don’t open your mouth in the water, the health experts urge, as that will somehow alleviate the fact that athletes competing in sports like swimming and windsurfing are submerged in the sewage of around 12 million people. Also, here’s a picture of a dead body just floating in Guanabara Bay, like it’s nothing. Have fun, people! This is what you trained for! The Times reports:

Recent tests by government and independent scientists revealed a veritable petri dish of pathogens in many of the city’s waters, from rotaviruses that can cause diarrhea and vomiting to drug-resistant “superbacteria” that can be fatal to people with weakened immune systems.

Researchers at the Federal University of Rio also found serious contamination at the upscale beaches of Ipanema and Leblon, where many of the half-million Olympic spectators are expected to frolic between sporting events.

Olympic and city officials counter these warnings with a veritable “don’t worry about it!!,” saying that the swimmers will be in less-shitty waters and those who will be competing in shittier waters are doing sports that don’t really require them to submerge their bodies, like sailing. Oh, they must feel so comforted! Or, gosh, maybe not:

“We just have to keep our mouths closed when the water sprays up,” said Afrodite Zegers, 24, a member of the Dutch sailing team, which has been practicing in Guanabara Bay.

Do you feel like puking yet? No? How about now:

“They can try to block big items like sofas and dead bodies, but these rivers are pure sludge, so the bacteria and viruses are going to just pass through,” said Stelberto Soares, a municipal engineer who has spent three decades addressing the city’s sanitation crisis.


The one potential net-positive of all this negative publicity is that perhaps environmental officials can finally get the leverage to address the problem, which has clearly been building for years, though locals don’t seem to be optimistic about it, particularly once the Olympics close and the cameras leave. Because while this environmental disaster is revolting for those just learning about it, never forget that people actually live with waterways contaminated with superbacteria and the smell of shit in the air every day of their lives—Rio’s raw sewage still pumps into Guanabara Bay—and a true and thorough clean-up, officials say, will take 20 years.