» Sports » Will Zika virus keep athletes away from Rio Olympics?

Will Zika virus keep athletes away from Rio Olympics?

February 02, 2016 09:38 IST

'So far there is no travel ban being pronounced by the WHO'

Rio Zika

IMAGE: A municipal worker stands next to a banner that reads, "Rio Carnival 2016" before spraying insecticide to prevent the spread of Zika's vector. Photograph: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has welcomed measures being taken to tackle the mosquito-borne Zika virus and believes the spread of the virus across South America will not adversely affect the Rio de Janeiro Games in August.

There is no risk of canceling the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this year due to an outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil, which has been linked to birth defects in newborns, President Dilma Rousseff's chief of staff said on Monday.

"We have to explain to those coming to Brazil, the athletes, that there is zero risk if you are not a pregnant women," Rousseff's chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, told reporters.
While applauding the World Health Organization's declaration that the virus was an international public health emergency, Bach said he was confident athletes would feel safe travelling to Brazil for global sport's showpiece.

"We welcome this decision by the World Health Organisation (WHO) because it helps raise even more awareness and to provide even more resources to fight the virus," Bach told reporters at the University of California, Los Angeles on Monday.

"We are in the close contact with the WHO and we see also that so far there is no travel ban being pronounced by the WHO.

"We also see that the Olympic Games will be taking place in the winter time which is not the preferred breeding time for the mosquitoes," Bach said after meeting with members of LA24, the group trying to bring the 2024 Summer Games to Los Angeles.

Rio 2016 organisers have said the Games, from Aug. 5-21, will be during Brazil's winter months when a "dryer, cooler climate significantly reduces the presence of mosquitoes".

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told reporters earlier on Monday that an international coordinated response was needed, although restrictions on travel or trade were not necessary.

The emergency designation was recommended by a committee of independent experts to the United Nations agency following criticism of a hesitant response so far. The move should help fast-track international action and research priorities.

The WHO said last week the Zika virus, linked to birth defects in thousands of babies, was "spreading explosively" and could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas.

"We are in contact not only with the WHO but we are in contact also with the organising committee, we are in contact with all the 206 national Olympics committees around the world," said Bach.

"They, in turn, are in contact with the national health authorities and all this makes us very confident that at the time of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro there will be good conditions for all athletes and all spectators."

Asked whether he had any concern that some athletes might choose not to compete in Rio because of the Zika virus, Bach replied: "No, I don't see this because of all the measures which have been taken, and because of the time.

"There remains six months to tackle this problem and the determination of the WHO, by the Brazilian authorities, by the organising committee, I think all this will convince the athletes to come to Rio de Janeiro and to celebrate these Olympic Games all together."

Bach, who was accompanied by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and a delegation that included former US Olympic athletes Carl Lewis and Janet Evans, was upbeat after concluding his official visits to the four cities bidding to host the 2024 Games.

Los Angeles, which has hosted the Summer Games twice before, in 1932 and 1984, is vying with Paris, Rome and Budapest.

"You see me very pleased, not only about the preparations here in Los Angeles but even more pleased because we have a fascinating competition ahead of us with four cities who can all organise excellent Olympic Games in 2024," said Bach.

"It will be up to the different candidates now to make their point, to show their uniqueness and their strengths.

"We from the IOC can be pretty relaxed watching this great Olympic competition which is as competitive as an Olympic final in any sport but with one big difference -- there is only one medal. There is no silver and there is no bronze. Only a gold medal."

The IOC will elect a winning bid for the 2024 Games in September 2017.

© Copyright 2019 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.