Ex-World Sailing CEO Says He Was Fired After Speaking Out About Rio's Polluted Venue; ESPN's Mike Greenberg Fighting Back


The polluted conditions of Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay, home to Olympic sailing this summer, has been a major environmental story in the run up to the Games this August. Now, the former CEO of World Sailing says he was fired for pushing to move the sailing venue to cleaner waters. And Mike Greenberg, co-host of ESPN Radio’s/ESPN2’s morning talk show, “Mike and Mike” is pushing his audience to raise the issue of likely harm to the athletes of competing in polluted waters, despite it being too late for a venue change.

GreenSportsBlog, along with many other news outlets, has reported on the high pollution (bacterial, viral, visual, smell) levels of Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay, host of Olympic Sailing this August# (click here and here for links to prior GSB stories). Despite independent testing of The Guanabara conducted by the AP over the last year showing disease-causing viruses linked to human sewage at levels thousands of times above what would be considered alarming in the U.S. or Europe, and despite there being a much cleaner venue option only 100 miles away, World Sailing decided the event would stay put.
Today, the AP reports that Pete Sowrey, the former CEO of World Sailing, claims he was fired for pushing to move the sailing event from The Guanabara. Sowrey said a venue switch was based on “fact-based, data-driven models…we would never consider sailing in that quality of water.” So he proposed moving the event to Buzios, a coastal resort about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Rio that has hosted large sailing events.
Apparently, the World Sailing board didn’t cotton to Sowrey’s approach. “The board felt I was way too aggressive,” Sowrey told the AP. “They basically voted me out. I didn’t resign. The board finally told me to leave.”
Health experts say athletes will be competing in the viral equivalent of raw sewage with exposure to dangerous health risks, including stomach and respiratory ailments being “almost certain.” Why the allegiance to The Guanabara, given the clear health dangers to the athletes?
According to AP interviews with Sowrey and new World Sailing CEO Andy Hunt (now just two weeks into the new job), 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. Of course, that attention could be a double-edged sword if sailors get sick. But those illnesses may not manifest themselves until after the Olympic Flame is doused–convenient for World Sailing and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which provides the sailing organization with more than half of its income.
SugarLoaf NYT

“The Good” of Guanabara Bay in Rio, with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background (Photo credit: NY Times)…

Guanabara Guardian

…And “The Bad & The Ugly” of The Guanabara (Photo credit: The Guardian)

Inconvenient for World Sailing and the IOC is Mike “Greeny” Greenberg’s loud righteous indignation about their “athletes be damned” approach on this morning’s edition of “Mike & Mike” on ESPN Radio and ESPN 2. Greeny offered to pay out of his own pocket for IOC and World Sailing officials–and their families–to go to The Guanabara and swim in it^. He also urged his listeners and viewers to start tweeting the #RioWater hashtag on Twitter and, voilà, it was trending. GreenSportsBlog second’s Greeny’s #RioWater motion, so, please, tweet away.

# Pollution concerns have also been raised about the Rodrigo de Freitas lake, the Olympic Rowing and Canoeing venue and Copacabana Beach, home to the swim portion of the Olympic Triathlon
^ Somehow I think Greeny’s pocketbook won’t be any lighter.
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  1. The Olympics in Rio are going to face so many obstacles (pollution, crime, the Zika virus), but it is also an opportunity to examine GREEN issues and, maybe, to come up with solutions that work in third world countries.

  2. You are spot on, Candy. Zika is dominating the news now–in fact NY Times is up with this story about how the virus could spread, post-Olympics: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/29/world/americas/brazil-zika-rio-olympics.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
    On the green side, big picture, sports is moving in the right direction–Zero-Waste games, on-site renewable generation, LEED certified arenas, etc. But the mess in Rio at Guanabara Bay, a micro-issue, is just unconscionable and shows the IOC has a long way to go. #RioWater

  3. […] sailing, rowing and triathlon swim venues for the 2016 Rio Olympics has garnered the attention of this blog, The Guardian, and a myriad of other media outlets around the world. ESPN has done great work on […]

  4. […] at the outdoor water sports venues—sailing, rowing and triathlon swim. Click here, here and here for a “Dirty (Rio) […]

  5. […] Olympics. Of course, the polluted and unhealthy condition of the water at the Rio sailing venue, Guanabara Bay, has rightly drawn significant media attention. Is Sailors for the Sea involved with sailing at […]

  6. […] story is organic for us, we don’t hesitate to cover it. ESPN certainly covered the [polluted] Rio Olympics water story. And we’ve talked about the important conservation and sustainability assets of many […]

  7. […] But, along with the wins there are also the green draws/mixed bags (Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Rio 2016 Olympics), along with a loss (the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee does not have a greening program) […]

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