Officials deny dirty water made rowers ill in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - There is no clear evidence that rowers who fell ill after competing in Rio de Janeiro at the weekend were infected by abnormal levels of viruses or bacteria in the water, U.S. and international sailing officials said on Monday. The Associated Press reported that 13 members of the 40-member U.S. team fell ill after the world junior championships, a test event for next year's Olympics in Brazil. U.S. officials confirmed to Reuters that 15 members took ill but said that was not abnormal in international events and it was too early to blame dirty water. "It would be easy but irresponsible for us to immediately assume that the rowing course is the main or sole point of exposure that caused the illnesses," CEO of USRowing Glenn Merry told Reuters. Merry said U.S. rowers often take ill abroad and said the fact that coaches also got sick in Rio was an indication water might not be the problem. The only athlete who fell into the lagoon and consumed significant amounts of water was not one of those who was ill, Merry added. Event organizers also cast doubt on the reports, saying they treated 14 people for diarrhea – eight Americans, and three each from Australia and Britain -- and that all were medicated and fit enough to compete. A spokesperson for Rio2016, who asked not to be named, said "everything suggests" the diarrhea was caused by familiar travel woes rather than dirty water. International sailing officials also said they had no evidence the sailors got ill from waters. The championships were held at the same lagoon that will be used during South America's first ever Olympic games next year. However, water quality there, as well as in the seas where the sailing, triathlon and open water swimming events will be held, has been sharply criticized and authorities have admitted it will not meet its own targets for reducing the amount of sewage in the water. Unsafe levels of viruses and bacteria were recorded in the water, according to an independent study commissioned by the AP and released last month. (Reporting by Andrew Downie; editing by Justin Palmer)