RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio de Janeiro will not keep its promise of cleaning polluted Guanabara Bay for the 2016 Olympics, Mayor Eduardo Paes said on Saturday.
Cleaning the giant bay was part of the pitch Rio made in being awarded the games, saying this would form an important part of its legacy.
Olympic sailors have described the 2016 venue as a "sewer" with almost 70 percent of sewage going untreated into area waters. Sailors have talked of dodging floating sofas, animal carcasses, and plastic trash bags that foul rudders.
"I'm sorry that we did not use the games to get Guanabara Bay completely clean," Paes said in his first public admission that the problem will not be solved.
Rio's Olympics have faced mounting criticism over delays, with International Olympic Committee members saying openly the games are at risk and preparations are the "worst" in recent memory. In April the IOC sent special advisers to Rio to help organizers get on track.
Any hope Brazil would be able to clean up the sewage-filled bay was quashed in a document obtained last month by The Associated Press.
In a May 7 letter to sports minister Aldo Rebelo, Rio's state environment secretary, Carlos Francisco Portinho, acknowledged in a best-case scenario that pollution flowing into the bay could be cut to "over 50 percent" — well below the promised reduction of 80 percent.
Paes said he was "not afraid for the health of any of the athletes. It's going to be fine."
He said sailing would take place in a part of the bay that was less polluted.
Some parts are worse than others, but water movements and tides make it difficult to predict the trajectory of human waste and floating debris. The medal races for the Olympics are planned off Flamengo beach, where warnings are posted telling people not to swim. The few swimmers there appear to be children from neighboring slums.
Asked if the government would be morally or legally responsible for any athletes who became ill, he replied: "Sure, I think it's our responsibility. Yes."