Could The Zika Virus Doom The 2016 Rio Summer Olympics?

Bryan Altman

From the outset, various issues have plagued and have threatened to cause serious problems throughout the duration of the games for the upcoming summer Olympics in Rio De Janiero, Brazil.

First came reports of highly polluted water offshore in the bay and lagoon areas that would be used for various aquatic events during the Olympic games.

Now, a virus known as the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne virus that predominately affects pre-natal women and can cause microcephaly in newborns, has reared its head in Brazil as well.

Microcephaly is a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and can result in death or can cause severe learning disabilities as well.

This past week, the World Health Organization (W.H.O) declared the virus to be a “global emergency.”

The health-based issues in Rio began in 2014 but came to a head over the summer of 2015 when a German sailor named Erik Heil came down with MRSA, a flesh-eating bacteria and potentially deadly disease, after a test event in Rio. Later in the summer, other athletes came down with similar illnesses after partaking in test events in the contaminated water as well.

In the wake of the illnesses, promises were made by Olympic and World Health Organization officials to test and clean up the waters. However, a test conducted by the AP in December of 2015 confirmed that not only had the situation not improved, but the problem was more widespread than they had imagined.

Concerns about the safety of the water quality haven’t been quelled, and now the Zika virus is threatening to compound the issue of athlete safety in Rio.

One of the biggest issues with the virus is that only about 80 percent of those infected with the virus show symptoms. Additionally, the W.H.O. recently discovered that the virus can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, meaning that carriers of the virus can unknowningly transfer the virus to partners, making the disease extremely difficult to contain.

When it comes to the virus in Brazil, a report from the New York Times indicates that not only has the country seen widespread cases of microcephaly, but is also “ground zero for the disease” even though it hasn’t formally been linked to the Zika virus yet.

So with the issue of water quality – one that is so bad experts told the AP would force U.S. and European beaches with that level of contamination to close – combined with the Zika virus concerns is leading many to wonder whether the Olympics should be canceled or moved from Rio to protect the world’s international athletes.

Concern among athletes is rising and many are speaking out about the various issues surrounding the games.

The AP spoke with Mel Stewart, an American swimmer who took home two gold medals from the summer games in Barcelona in 1992.

“A gold medal is not worth jeopardizing your health,” Stewart told the AP. “Right now there are too many questions. I don’t see safety. It doesn’t appear at this point that the athletes are being thought of first.”

The Olympic committee is warning athletes planning on competing in the games to take precautions, but the virus still is at the forefront of many athletes’ minds.

The BBC spoke with British athletes who said they were concerned about the virus and that it would be on their mind while competing.

From BBC.com

“British rower Kath Grainger, who is attempting to qualify for Rio, described the situation as ‘sad.’ 

‘From a selfish point of view, this is the culmination of our careers where we try and make our mark on the world of sport,’ the 2012 gold medallist told BBC Sport. Yet suddenly you have this flip side which is quite a serious health hazard and potential risk.”

BBC.com also quoted a Rio Olympic spokesperson who said they had “not yet seen evidence of people cancelling travel to the Games.”

Still, one has to wonder how many obstacles and health issues the Olympic committee and the world’s Olympians will be willing to overcome to keep the games in Brazil this summer.

Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for just one championship for any of his other three teams.

Questions or comments? Feel free to follow Bryan on Twitter or send him an email

Comments

Listen Live