POSTED: February 10th 2016
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NEIL WILSON: The Olympic Zika question - to go or not to go to the Games

Zika virus has become the latest more personal threat to the Games / Bigstock
Zika virus has become the latest more personal threat to the Games / Bigstock


THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) To go or not to go. That to misuse Shakespeare is the question that is suddenly on the lips of  Olympians who expected their only thoughts in 2016 to be focussed on gold in Rio.

Not put off by the pollution of waters in Guanabara Bay, the gaoling of corrupt executives of companies building Olympic stadia or Brazil's severe economic woes, they are seriously concerned about the latest more personal threat.  In short, Aedus aegypti, the mosquito that carries the Zika virus which was declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organisation this month.

Fear has spread as rapidly as the virus in Brazil. Kenya's Olympic Committee head Kip Keino said that his country may not attend. The Australian and US Olympic committees said females should consider the risks of going.

Toni Minichiello, coach to Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, urged the British to move its Olympic acclimatisation camp away from the infected area. Double Olympic rowing champion Andy Trigg Hodge said his wife would not be going to cheer his attempt at a third gold.

Hope Solo, goalkeeper for the US Olympic soccer team, told SI.com that had she had to make the decision 'today' she would not go.

The serious threat to health exists largely for women who are pregnant or planning to be pregnant imminently because of the yet unproven but suspected link with birth defects in the new-born.  Cases among both sexes of it causing Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a serious disease of the nervous system, have also been found in Brazil.

The expert view is that it will not affect future pregnancies and that only one in five of those infected by the mosquitoes will show any symptoms. In the ones who do they will be mild, a fever, rash, joint pain and sore eyes lasting several days.

Not something you want at the peak of the four-year cycle of training for an Olympic challenge but hugely unlikely to affect your health long term.

Thousands of cases of infection are being reported by health authorities now but now in Brazil is summer, the mosquito season. When the Olympic Games takes place in August it will be winter, the Northern Hemisphere equivalent of February. Mosquitoes in February are a rarer breed.

Mosquito repellent and long sleeves may be an extremely efficient protection from those rare February moskies. The eradication efforts by the Rio authorties will reduce the threat further.

So the question is still: to go or not to go. Wrestling's world governing body has just conducted a test event in Rio. It reports that all competitors and officials returned healthy. And that is at the height of summer.

So the odds are good that in August everybody will be safe. The dilemma though remains. Not all will be as gung-ho as Ronak Pandit who has coached his wife Heena Sidhu to a place on India's Olympic shooting team.

"The way I see it it's better to die for an Olympic gold than be scared and sit at home," he told Reuters.  No answer was requested from his wife.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.


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