Tension and controversy have been building surrounding whether the Zika virus will prevent a quality showing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as many players have begun to voice their concerns over whether it will be safe enough to participate.
The Summer Olympics, which begin August 5, has been shrouded in concern from officials and athletes not just because Brazil is currently going through a political and economic crisis, but because the Zika virus poses a potentially serious public health concern.
Recently, Jamaican sprinter Kemer Bailey-Cole, 24, was contracted with the virus from an unreported source and said he would not be able to participate. He had planned to compete for a spot on the Jamaica team this week alongside Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Yohan Blake.
The Zika virus is primarily spread through mosquitos, causing fever, rash and joint pain. In pregnant women, it can have a serious, long-lasting affect on the fetus.
“Only the most gullible tourist would think Brazil is safe,” University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran told the CBC.
Attaran reportedly helped write a letter to the World Health Organization — signed by over 200 health professionals — requesting that they push for a delay to the games.
But many athletes have said they are willing to take the risk, that they aren’t worried about it or, that they simply aren’t educated enough on the subject.
“I don’t really know what is Zika,” women’s tennis star Garbine Muguruza said.
Most athletes, however, are aware of the risks. Earlier this year, for example, many members of the United States’ Major League Baseball expressed enough concern about the virus being contracted during a one-game exhibition in Puerto Rico to get the trip cancelled.
But some athletes are more resilient. During Wimbledon, Roger Federer told the media the Olympics are too big of a deal, and so he will stick to his decision to attend regardless of the risks.
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“I’m not afraid of Zika,” Czech Republic tennis player Petra Kvitova said. “I will definitely go.”
English tennis player Andy Murray said he also has not yet been dissuaded.
US golfer Rory McIlroy said he wouldn’t be participating in the Olympics because of the Zika virus. He is just one of four golfers to withdraw because of fears of the virus so far, joining Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace.
Bulls center Pau Gasol said he was available for the Spanish basketball team, according to the Chicago Tribune, but admitted he was worried about the virus. He reportedly said he had considered freezing his sperm just in case.
Flights and hotel reservations in Brazil are down from last year, according to the Flight Centre travel agency.
Brazil’s Minister of Health, however, has said that there is no reason for tourists or athletes to worry, as the chances of Zika spreading through the Olympic village and to spectators is “minimal.”
With one month to go, many athletes will have to declare very soon whether they are participating or not.