PARIS, France — Heavy rains in Paris have led to the cancellation on Sunday of a swimming event in the River Seine that was to be a test for next year’s Summer Olympics, but Games organizers say the waterway will be better prepared in 2024.
The Open Water Swimming World Cup event was canceled because “the water quality in the Seine has remained below acceptable standards for safeguarding swimmers’ health,” French Swimming Federation (FFN) said in a statement Sunday.
Water quality falls below acceptable standards when rains cause overflows of untreated waste into the Seine. France’s capital city is spending massively on water-management projects that officials say will make pollution caused by storms less frequent.
Brigitte Legaré, sport manager at the Paris Olympics organization committee, said “unfortunately, this morning when we took the (water quality) reading that came out after 24 hours, we were still slightly above the limits. We’re not very far."
World Aquatics' President Husain al-Musallam said the organization is "disappointed… but the health of our athletes must always be our top priority.
“World Aquatics remains excited at the prospect of city-centre Olympic racing for the world’s best open water swimmers next summer. However, this weekend has demonstrated that it is absolutely imperative that robust contingency plans are put in place,” he said in the statement.
The Seine is the venue for marathon swimming at the Games next summer and the swimming leg of the Olympic and Paralympic triathlon.
Paris Olympics organizers and the city’s authorities said in a joint statement Sunday that “in recent weeks, water quality in the Seine has regularly reached the levels required for competitions to be held on the dedicated site, demonstrating the significant progress made.”
They said water quality will be closely monitored in the coming days in the hope that triathletes can race in the Seine during a test event scheduled on August 17-20.
“By 2024, new infrastructure will be delivered to further improve rainwater treatment to improve water quality," they said.
Those public works include a giant underground reservoir in Paris that will stock excess water during storms, so it doesn’t have to be spilled untreated into the river and can be treated later.
Pierre Rabadan, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of sports, said “we’re in an outdoor sport subject to climatic variations, weather conditions and that brings uncertainties. We’re going to deal with these uncertainties.”
When new water cleanup facilities will be ready, “we’ll be able to regulate even exceptional phenomena like the one we’re facing today,” he said.
Paris Games organizers also say the schedule for Olympic events in the river can be adjusted next year if the water quality doesn’t allow them to take place on their original dates.
Their statement said the recent weather was “exceptional,” with the Paris region seeing its heaviest summer rainfalls since 1965.