Former sailing chief says he was fired for speaking out over Rio's polluted Olympic venue

Stuff.co.nz. By Stephen Wade.

The former CEO of World Sailing says he was fired for pushing to get rid of polluted Guanabara Bay as the sailing venue for this year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Peter Sowrey tried to change the venue, or at least have a “B plan” but says “I was told to gag myself on the subject”.

Andy Hunt took over just two weeks ago as the new CEO, and sailing is still scheduled to begin in August in the sewage-filled bay.

In interviews with The Associated Press, Sowrey and Hunt said the bay – overlooked by the famous Christ the Redeemer monument and Sugarloaf Mountain behind it – may give sailing the kind of television coverage it seldom enjoys.

It could also bring unwanted attention if sailors fall ill, or if floating rubbish – plastic bags to door frames to animal carcasses – fouls rudders and costs someone an Olympic gold medal.

Sowrey proposed moving the event to Buzios, a coastal resort about 160 kilometres from Rio that has been host to several large sailing events. Of course, it's too late now for that change.

Sowrey, who left in December after only five months on the job, came to the governing body from the consulting company Accenture. He acknowledged he had little experience dealing with the politics that drive international sports federations. But he brought business acumen.

“The board felt I was way too aggressive,” Sowrey said. “They basically voted me out. I didn't resign. The board finally told me to leave.”

Read the full story here.

In response, World Sailing issued this release:

We were surprised by the comments attributed to the former ISAF Chief Executive Officer Peter Sowrey in a recent interview with AP.

Of their own accord, the Hotel Association, the Commercial and Business Association of Buzios and the Buzios Convention & Visitors Bureau wrote to the ISAF President on 27 July 2015 offering the services of their city as an alternative Olympic sailing venue.

Under the guidance of Chief Executive Officer at the time, Peter Sowrey, the President wrote back on 3 August 2015 with the following statement, 'As you know the venue for the Sailing event of the 2016 Olympic Games was evaluated and approved some years ago.  There are no plans currently to consider other venues.’

World Sailing continues to work in close partnership with the Rio 2016 Organising Committee and the International Olympic Committee to ensure that the venue is suitable to provide an outstanding Olympic Sailing Competition.

While no-one pretends that the situation in Rio is ideal, reliable sources insist that it is nowhere near as bad as the AP reports suggest. 

The major concern for sailors has been the danger of losing a medal because they hit a floating object – the Australian 470 crew saw a dead dog float past them and 49er Olympic champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen had a baby's nappy wrap around their centreboard during previous regattas at the venue.

However two things need to be borne in mind about the rubbish problem. Firstly, the Olympics will be held at a dry time of year. It is usually during the rainy season when rubbish washes into the bay as Rio has no filtering systems in place on storm water drains. And secondly, as outlined in the above article, booms will be in place on all courses to intercept rubbish.

As far as the health risk is concerned, at the recent test event around 30% of sailors became ill, which is actually less than the average when competing at a foreign venue, where there is no inbuilt resistance to local bacteria. The more often sailors compete there, the better their restance will become.

The Australian Sailing Team has considered the situation very thoroughly and has procedures in place to minimise the health risks to sailors and support staff.

The situation is not ideal – but family and friends can be assured it is not as bad as some reports paint it to be.

– Roger McMillan

 

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