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Brazilian Olympic Sailors Concerned About the Legacy of the 2016 Games

Brazilian sailors are disappointed that officials did not do enough to clean up the water in the bay.
The polluted waters of Guanabara Bay. Photo by Antonio Lacerda/EPA

Much has been made of the power of the Olympics to leave a lasting legacy in Rio de Janeiro, from improvements in public transport to investment in sports and education.

But if one sport reveals the impotence of the Games to address Rio's deep-rooted challenges, it is sailing.

The authorities in Rio de Janeiro state have long since accepted they will not meet their target of treating 80 per cent of the sewage that reaches Guanabara Bay, which will host the Rio 2016 regattas.


"There are two projects that are the responsibility of the state government - a big challenge - which are the depollution of Guanabara Bay and the Jacarepagua lagoon," said Eduardo Paes, mayor of Rio, this week.

"But this target of a concrete legacy in the Guanabara Bay - they reached 50 per cent treated sewage, the target was 80 per cent - it's worth something, it's worth a lot even if we didn't fully reach the target."

But for the Brazilian athletes who call the venue their home ground, the failure to address the polluted bay raises concerns over the legacy of Rio 2016.

Kahena Kunze, who together with Martine Grael is among Brazil's best medal hopes in the 49er FX class, was reluctant to discuss the well-worn topic at the bayside Team Brazil camp in Urca, Rio.

But asked whether she felt the sailing venue had been fully "delivered" like the other sporting arenas, she said: "I don't really want to go into this subject but no, it wasn't delivered. This is what I wanted, to really leave a legacy to try to clean it in the future.

"It will be much more important to leave a little more of a legacy, mainly in the Bay, in education, because really, beyond the Games, our country is very bad…it's sad to know that there's all this infrastructure for the Games and if you go to the favelas, there's nothing."

Kunze's sailing partner, Martine, whose father is Brazilian sailing hero Torben Grael, said they had seen no change in the quality of the water despite efforts like trash-picking eco-boats.


"Very few things were done," she said. "The things that were done were not what we wanted to see.

"There's highs and lows on the bay. We're hoping if it's the right wind, it stays clean."

But there's little recourse for an athlete whose boat comes up against an obstacle in the water, much less the Rio population living without proper sanitation.

"It's disgraceful," added Kunze. "I feel a bit ashamed because when you go abroad, the water is impeccable. You come here, you have to deal with this - it's complicated.

"What can we say? That it's clean? It's not. That there's a project? There's not. So it's just like bad luck.

"This worries me a bit, what's going to be there after the Games."