The green diving pool story has gone stratospheric because it’s funny and it’s something we can all get a handle on: green pool, blue pool; swamp, water. That’s certainly a lot easier to grasp than the finer points of triple inward pike half twist, which are only put before us once every four years. But the joke has a dark edge to it, too.
We are in the middle of the event which represents the pinnacle of competition for the world’s best divers, the event which they’ve focussed most of their waking hours on for at least the last year. And yet the Rio de Janeiro Olympics organisers can neither summon the energy nor the intelligence to offer an explanation for the change of colour, or even see to it that the problem is resolved.
For those nations competent in staging elite sport, every stone would have been turned over to restore the purity of the water and dignify the world’s best divers with the respect they deserve. But, as Japan and Australia battled it out in the water polo in the blue pool this morning, the green one remained, in just the same state as we had last seen it on Tuesday night. Not the mildest effort to rectify the problem, nor any evidence of an attempt to do so.
To say so risks exuding that air of western superiority that the British Olympic Association is so keen to guard against here, but can you imagine the reaction if the pool had turned green in London four years ago? It would have been nothing less than a national crisis. The engineers would have been put to work through the night – and we would have been put to work through the night to live blog their efforts.
The Rio organisers have not even graced us with an explanation for the change in colour. They say they've tested the water, that there's no risk to athletes’ health and that they're investigating further. Well, that’s ok then.
It takes minimal investigation to know that algae – living marine creatures which multiply in warm weather – cause a pool to turn green, and that an imbalance in the pool’s water chemicals, poor circulation, filtration or sanitation are the most likely reasons why algae would proliferate.
How do you solve the problem? Get a good pool brush. Loosen the algae off the floor and sides of the pool. Then ‘shock’ the pool with chlorine. The treatment required really is as simple as that.
The British diver Tonia Couch made light of the problem after she and 16-year-old partner Lois Toulson came fifth in the 10m synchronised event on Tuesday. “It looked worse because the sun went in,” she said. “I couldn’t see Lois when I went underneath.”
So there we have it. We reach the moment when more obscure Olympic sports need the focus to be on the technical excellence and panache of competitors – from board, to water and back to the surface – so that they might draw a new generation in. And instead, we are discussing conditions so poor that competitors can’t even see themselves under the water.
What a humbling and crashing embarrassment. We were right all along to have profound concerns about Rio’s competence to stage these Olympics.
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