The 2016 Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro was the subject of many controversies in the years leading up to the Games. The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached just months before the Olympics and there were lingering concerns about the Zika virus, but one of the major sporting controversies surrounded the location of the sailing area at Marina da Glória in Guanabara Bay. Many sailors, including German Erik Heil as reported in the Guardian, had fears of contracting illnesses from the very poor water quality. However, despite these controversies, the location for the sailing event was used partly because it provided a brilliant location to promote sailing to a wider audience, through social media, due to its impressive sights.
This bay was also the site of the open water swimming events for the 2016 Olympics, with many news sites, such as The Independent, providing a lot of coverage on how contaminated the water in the area was.
Beyond concerns about illnesses, one major fear for sailors was that their boats could become damaged by hitting debris in the water and that getting caught on items polluting Guanabara Bay could affect their performances at the Olympics. Nick Thompson, a British sailor who is a two-time world champion and finished sixth overall in the Laser class, was quoted by BT Sport as saying: “The biggest concern I have, really, is just debris in the water. If you hit something in the water when you’re competing, that stops you dead and really can cost medals.”
In addition to the actual water itself, Guanabara Bay is almost entirely enclosed by mountains. This aided the taking of impressive photographs and footage of the racing, but it posed problems for the racing. As Lisa Gabrielson wrote for Sailing World, the wind coming off the mountains created tricky and unpredictable patterns.
From this evidence, it would seem that the location for the sailing events was not ideal. As Scuttlebutt, a North American sailing news outlet, reported, however, Peter Sowrey, former CEO of World Sailing, was removed from the position for trying to change the venue.
The power of money, it would seem, was a major force in the location of the event. The venue for the sailing event proposed by Sowrey was 160 kilometres away from Rio, something which in itself would not have been too unusual as the sailing locations are often separate from the main hub of the Olympics. The 2012 Olympic sailing venue was Weymouth, approximately 280 kilometres away from London, while the 2008 Olympic sailing venue was Qingdao, almost 700 kilometres from Beijing.
Sailing is a sport that does not benefit from mainstream media coverage in the way many other sports do, and relies of the Olympic Games for up to half of World Sailing’s quadrennial income, according to David Owen in Inside the Games. Having the event so close to the centre of the Olympic action was a great opportunity to showcase the sport, and as shown by the images on The Telegraph and World Sailing websites.
From observing Google Trends for the time period June 1st 2016 to June 1st 2017 the term “sailing” had its peak from 7th to 20th August 2016, the time of the sailing events in Rio. The Olympics is a time when sailing is viewed at its highest. During the same period “sailing” also reached its peak searches on Google Images and on the social media site YouTube, showing that this is a critical time for people to cash in on sailing.
Its popularity on Google Images and YouTube show that sailing is a sport that lends itself to social media snapshots, as the actual technicalities of the sport can be lost on those who do not follow it regularly. This example of the Rio Olympics shows that sailing is a sport that has been affected by the use of social media.
Barchfield, Jenny, “Rio 2016: Swimmers need to ingest only three teaspoons of water to be almost certain of contracting a virus,” Independent, 1 August 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/olympics/rio-2016-water-pollution-virus-risk-danger-swimming-sailing-rowing-chance-of-infection-almost-a7165866.html
Gabrielson, Lisa, “Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Wrap-Up,” Sailing World, 19 August 2016. https://www.sailingworld.com/rio-2016-olympic-sailing-wrap-up
Owen, David, “World Sailing hunts for new sponsors as it seeks to become less dependent on Olympic income,” Inside the Games, 19 January 2016. https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1033447/world-sailing-hunts-for-new-sponsors-as-it-seeks-to-become-less-dependent-on-olympic-income
“German sailor blames infection on water at Rio 2016 Olympic test event,” The Guardian, 28 August 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/aug/28/german-sailor-erik-heil-infections-polluted-water-rio-2016-olympics
“Nick Thompson hopes Guanabara Bay controversies ease when sailing is under way,” BT, 7 August 2016. http://sport.bt.com/more-sport-hub/more-sport/nick-thompson-hopes-guanabara-bay-controversies-ease-when-sailing-is-under-way-S11364078021525
“Rio Games Venue Source of World Sailing Controversy,” Scuttlebutt Sailing News, 26 January 2016. http://www.sailingscuttlebutt.com/2016/01/26/49349/
“Sailing at the 2016 Rio Olympics: The best pictures from Guanabara Bay,” The Telegraph, 19 August 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sailing/2016/08/19/sailing-at-the-rio-2016-olympics-the-best-pictures-from-guanabar/sunset/
“Rio 2016 – Olympic Games,” World Sailing. https://worldsailing.photoshelter.com/gallery-collection/RIO-2016-OLYMPIC-GAMES/C0000LUebIfXkjB0
Google Trends: sailing, https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=2016-06-01%202017-06-01&q=sailing