Bolt says he’ll outrun the Zika mozzies
Usain Bolt says the Zika virus is not going to keep him away from this year’s Olympic Games. “I am fast. The mosquitoes can’t catch me,” he said in an interview with Today.com. It was a joke that not everyone found funny. Justin Gatlin will today be in Rio de Janeiro for a street race, and Rory McIlroy said he felt safer regarding the virus after he did some research about it. No mosquito will stand between these men and their Olympic dreams. By contrast, a handful of other potential Olympians have already decided not to take part out of fear of infection. Golfers Marc Leishman and Vijay Singh are staying away because of Zika. American cyclist Tejay van Garderen declared himself unavailable because he didn’t want to put his pregnant wife in danger. And Andy Murray first wants to find out more about the possible risks before he makes his final decision on whether he will defend his Olympic title in August. If the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are seen as the Titanic of 2016, then the Zika virus is an ocean filled with icebergs. The wise men of the World Health Organisation say the ship cannot be sunk by one of these icebergs, while a group of 150 health experts say it’s an unnecessary gamble to even let the ship leave port. The 150 say it’s a disease that can be spread to all corners of the earth when the thousands who will have descended on Rio for the Games return to their homes. A single mosquito bite could lead to inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, Guillain-Barré syndrome and babies with serious birth defects. Of course, no athlete needs to hear these kinds of things when they should really only be worrying about their readiness for the quadrennial pageant. But the Rio organisers say no one needs to fret over a couple of mosquito bites. Everything possible will be done to ensure that the Olympic athlete’s village and all the venues are mosquito-free. The people trying to allay the fears point out that the Games take place in August, Brazil’s coldest month, when mosquitoes aren’t common. They add that the problem is at its fiercest in the northeast of Brazil (Rio is towards the south). The US’s National Center for Biotechnology Information used the worldwide spread of dengue fever in 2008 as a model to estimate that there could be anything from 1.8 cases of Zika per 1 million tourists to 3.2 per 100 000 due to the Olympic Games. Lancet reported that there were only 42 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome when two-thirds of French Polynesia’s 270 000 inhabitants were infected with the Zika virus in 2013. According to research, 80% of people who contract the disease never experience any consequences. What this camouflages, however, is the personal risk to every individual. The Zika virus has taken some lives. Even if the entire ship is not sunk, a passenger or two could be lost. That’s what made the Leishmans, Singhs and Van Garderens think twice. In addition, the “Shoot the Mosquito” campaign is not the only dark cloud hanging over Rio. Brazil’s president was impeached last month and the country is experiencing its biggest political crisis in two decades. It is in the midst of a recession and all the construction for the Games has not yet been completed. And then, of course, there’s the doping cloud – something the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is trying hard to sweep away. Last month it was revealed that cheaters had indeed stood on the podiums in Beijing (in 2008) as well as London (2012). Thirty-one positive results were found when 454 samples from the Beijing Games were retested and, among the 23 athletes who cheated at the London Games, according to new doping tests, were Turkish boxer Adem Kılıççı and the Russian cyclist Ekaterina Gnidenko. Both won Olympic gold in the British capital. This week, the IOC’s executive council decided to increase its budget for doping tests before the Games to $500 000 (R7.5 million). They will set their sights on, especially, athletes from Russia, Kenya and Mexico and will retest the urine samples of more of the medal winners in 2008 and 2012 for prohibited substances. “We want to make sure that all of the athletes who test positive are kept away from Rio. That’s our main priority,” said IOC spokesperson Mark Adams, according to USA Today. The Games will still take place, says the IOC – notwithstanding mosquitoes, dopers and political dramas. But of course, this doesn’t do much to silence the prophets of doom.