At least 57 swimmers ill with diarrhoea as sea 'filled with human waste'

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Sunderland hosting the UK
Sunderland hosting the UK's leg of the World Triathlon Series ended badly for many athletes (Image: PA)

At least 57 swimmers have fallen ill with diarrhoea after they competed at the World Triathlon Championship Series.

The sea swimming events held in Sunderland have left a number of leading athletes severely worse for wear. Around 2,000 people took part in last weekend’s events, which included a swim off of the northern city’s blue flag Roker beach.

However, one competitor since said they were left swimming in “s***” and British Triathlon confirmed “some participants” had fallen ill. Since then, it has been reported that at least 57 swimmers are sick.

Australian triathlete Jake Birtwhistle posted on Instagram saying: "Have been feeling pretty rubbish since the race, but I guess that's what you get when you swim in s***. I wasn't feeling great in the individual race so decided to save myself for a good relay leg. Some positives to take away leading into Paris in 2 weeks, but the swim should have been cancelled."

At least 57 swimmers ill with diarrhoea as sea 'filled with human waste' erideuiqtqiqdrinvOne athlete described the sea off Roker Beach as full of 's***' (North News & Pictures Ltd nort)

Other athletes responded to Mr Birthwhistle’s post, with one saying: “At least I know what got me and a bunch of other athletes who raced sick and ill.” Another wrote: “That now explains why I spent Monday night with my head in the toilet after racing Sunday morning!”

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Now, the UK Health Security Agency has said that it would be testing samples from those who fell sick as apart of their investigation into the outbreak. However, questions were raised after a sampling from Roker beach, by the Environment Agency, on Wednesday 26 July, just days before the event, showed E Coli levels 39 times higher than typical readings.

But British Triathlon claimed that the sampling was taken from outside the body of water where the competitions took place and its own testing had passed the necessary thresholds for the event to go ahead. In their full statement, British Triathlon said: “British Triathlon and World Triathlon are aware of illness among some participants following AJ Bell 2023 World Triathlon Championship Series Sunderland. We have communicated with participants regarding the situation and we will continue to work with Sunderland City Council and the UK Health Security Agency North East (UKHSA North East) in line with their routine processes to establish further information.”

The Guardian reported that the stretch of coastline had long lay at the heart of a heated battle between campaigners and Northumbrian Water over pollution. Whilst campaigners point the finger at them, the water company insist that they have not discharged into the water in any way that might “negatively impact water quality at Roker” since October 2021. Bob Latimer, 79, a campaigner, told the outlet: “There is still too much sewage being discharged into the sea.”

The triathlon could have been used by some athletes to qualify for the next Olympic games and marked the first time Sunderland hosted the UK leg of the World Triathlon Championship Series. A UKHSA spokesperson previously said: "UKHSA’S North East Health Protection team is working with British Triathlon and Sunderland City Council following reports of diarrhoea and vomiting in a number of participants who took part in the UK leg of the World Triathlon Championship Series in Sunderland.

"Organisers of the event have written to all participants to ensure they are aware and to advise anyone with symptoms to seek medical advice. The risk to the wider public is very low. Information and health advice on swimming in open water is available here."

A spokesperson for Northumbrian Water said: “We have had no discharges from any of our assets that might negatively impact water quality at either Roker or the neighbouring Whitburn North Bathing Water since October 2021. Both Bathing Waters were designated as ‘Excellent’ in the latest Defra classifications, and sampling to date in the current season indicate this high quality is being maintained."

Kieren Williams

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