RIO DE JANEIRO — There is a lot of official confidence here at the Rio Games, and behind it a lot of flat-out evasion. There are robberies and snapped cables, but the International Olympic Committee and local organizers are “confident” that all is safe. There is rampant theft inside of what are supposed to be restricted venues, but they are “confident” all is secure. Athletes have gotten sick, but they are “confident” all is healthy. They are positively, adamantly, confident.
You know those swimming pools at Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre that turned so green? The official explanations don’t add up, according to water expert Joseph Cotruvo, who spent 25 years as the Environmental Protection Agency’s director of drinking water standards. I emailed him the transcripts of Rio organizers’ meandering statements that hydrogen peroxide was mistakenly poured into the pools on the day of the Opening Ceremonies, neutralizing the chlorine, and their insistence the pools were nevertheless safe. Cotruvo wrote back that the official statements suggest the pools might have gone without adequate disinfecting for four days. From a health standpoint, “That is unconscionable,” he wrote.
Do you know how many bodies plunged in those pools and how much may have festered? Cotruvo, who serves on the World Health Organization’s Drinking Water Guidelines Committee, would like to see the microbiology reports from those four days, and so would I. “That would be interesting data,” he wrote. I emailed the IOC requesting it. I also requested data on how many athletes have gotten sick, and what their illnesses are. The IOC has not replied.
In the open-water events, a Belgian sailor has complained of contracting dysentery while other athletes are slugging mouthwash to kill any potential bacteria in their throats. But IOC medical director Richard Budgett publicly assured us in a news conference Monday that the open water is not unhealthy either, despite how notoriously infected Rio’s waterways are with garbage and sewage.
“A number of athletes do get ill and will get ill in all kinds of sports, and we have looked carefully to make sure it’s not related to the water quality,” Budgett said. “We can be confident the illnesses are not related to that.”
At the same briefing, Budgett said we can also “be very confident” that the drug test samples at the Rio anti-doping lab are protected, because there is a dedicated surveillance camera and a “huge” security presence stationed at the freezer.
How relieving to know that Ryan Lochte’s urine is so safe.
Whatever the topic, there is always a convenient assurance from officialdom here. Lochte and three other Americans got held up at gunpoint after celebrating the end of the swimming competition, but the IOC and local organizers are so confident they refused to issue a safety advisory to the delegations. Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada said, “We regret the violence has got so close to the athletes. We have requested the security authorities that they need to make sure everybody is safe everywhere in the city.”
Actually, Rio’s street crime is not nearly as concerning as the visibly sloppy, haphazard security inside the venues. On the day of the Opening Ceremonies, Sports Illustrated installed a $10,000 camera on the roof of Maracanã Stadium. The only people who were supposedly allowed up there were security and specifically accredited personnel.
The camera was stolen.
The Agence France Presse photo agency has lost 10 cameras, worth an estimated 40,000 Euros ($45,000), from inside venues. In one instance early in the Games, an unidentified man and a woman wandered briefly into the AFP office inside the Main Press Center, and then disappeared — with an entire camera bag of gear. AFP photographers have also had cameras stolen from inside Lagoa Stadium, and the tennis venue.
“It’s been a very heavy toll for us,” AFP’s Eric Baradat said.
News Corp. photographer Brett Costello’s bag full of equipment was boosted from a coffee bar in Copacabana, but that wasn’t the scary part. The scary part was a couple of days later when he was standing in the security line at the archery venue and saw the thief posing as him, wearing his official photo vest.
No wonder the local security is so itchy. There have been controlled explosions of suspicious packages outside Maracanã, a basketball venue, the cycling road race and the International Broadcast Center.
Are you confident in the confidence of these so very confident officials? I’m not. Especially not after a huge camera owned by the Olympic Broadcasting Service crashed to the ground in the middle of the Olympic Park on Monday afternoon, injuring seven spectators. The explanations for that one were just as reassuring as the swimming pool fiasco. According to OBS, there was a problem with the guide rope of the camera, so it called for a cherry-picker to come to the scene to effect repairs. The camera was supported by two independent cables “each one of which could carry the full load of the camera.”
“A few minutes later, both ropes simultaneously broke.”
It was just another day at the Rio Games. An investigation is pending, and tomorrow, officials will no doubt address the incident.
I’m confident there will be no danger to the public or the athletes.