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Brazil’s Athletes Give Up Olympic Dreams, Join Flood Rescue Efforts

Brazil’s athletes are giving up their Olympic dreams to stay and help fellow countrymen affected by some of the worst floods the country has seen. Heavy rains and flooding in the country’s southern state of Rio Grande do Sul have left at least 100 people dead and over 130 missing. The decision by the athletes comes just three months before the Olympic Games in Paris.

Some of the athletes include World and Olympic surfing champion Italo Ferreira, coach of the Brazil Olympic men’s judo team, Antonio Carlos Kiko Pereira They are also joined by former Olympians – gymnast Daiane dos Santos, who competed in three Summer Games, and former Olympic swimmer Nicholas Santos, who holds the world record for 50-meters butterfly.

For rowers Evaldo Becker and Piedro Tuchtenhagen, due to compete in the qualifying phase for the Olympic Games in the lightweight double sculls category, the decision came as they saw the plight their fellow countrymen were in. Speaking to Reuters over telephone call Becker recounted what he has told his team-mate.

“I said: Piedro, I can’t do it anymore.”

“The Olympics are the dream of our lives, but today we cannot see ourselves leaving our state,” said Tuchtenhagen.

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The floods have devastated not just the people but Olympians who are living in the state. Some athletes say their training was disrupted by the floods that inundated the streets of the state capital Porto Alegre after the river Guaiba burst its bank.

For others, the loss is even worse. Paralympic fencer Vanderson Chaves who lives in Porto Alegre said he lost all his medals and his passport in the floods which inundated the streets of the city. Chaves is still reeling from the shock. Training is also a problem. Though the Brazilian Olympic Committee has devised a plan by which athletes from the state can train elsewhere, getting out is a problem as the state’s airport is flooded.

President Lula has asked Congress to declare a public calamity in the state, which would authorise extra government spending with no need to comply with a spending cap stipulated by fiscal rules approved last year.

Brazil has been grappling with a series of health crises this year. In February, the country declared a public health emergency after nation-wide dengue epidemic just before the country’s famed Carnival celebrations. In both the dengue crisis and the recent floods, health officials have blamed climate change as the cause. Increased heat, and above average rainfall, are being touted as the reasons.