Zika virus is no threat to lo­cal fans, TeamSA

Sports lovers are set to travel to Rio

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - SAMEER NAIK

TEAM South Africa has al­ways en­joyed tremen­dous sup­port from lo­cal fans at the Olympic Games – and this year will be no dif­fer­ent.

De­spite fears over the Zika virus and the sig­nif­i­cant weak­en­ing of the rand, South African sports lovers will travel in their droves to Rio de Janeiro next month to show their sup­port for our Olympians.

Al­ready Fli-Afrika Travel, the sole tour and tick­et­ing op­er­a­tor ap­pointed by the Olympic Games lo­cal or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee, has sold out all its pack­ages for the Rio Games.

The sports man­age­ment agency had sev­eral on of­fer, in­clud­ing the open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies. A stan­dard pack­age – which in­cludes three-star ac­com­mo­da­tion and four match event tick­ets, but ex­cludes flights – costs any­where be­tween R20 000 and R22 000.

But while all the pack­ages have been sold out, Fli-Afrika still has match event tick­ets avail­able.

Com­pany di­rec­tor Nazeer Ca­ma­rood­een said South African sports fans were not de­terred from at­tend­ing ma­jor sport­ing events by fac­tors such as fears of the Zika virus.

“Those that were con­cerned about the Zika virus vis­ited their travel clin­ics. It’s win­ter time in Rio de Janeiro so the Zika virus is dor­mant.

“The peo­ple trav­el­ling to Brazil will take the nec­es­sary pre­cau­tions and make sure noth­ing hap­pens, just like all other sport­ing events they at­tend around the word.”

He added: “There are al­ways fears ahead of any ma­jor tour­na­ment and this could hap­pen any­where in the world. If you’re trav­el­ling to a place like the Kruger Park, you will be told to take malaria tablets and be care­ful.”

Ca­ma­rood­een added that many neg­a­tive things were said ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa, but the event was one of the best or­gan­ised World Cups.

“Ev­ery coun­try has its short­com­ings. I am sure the Brazil­ians have taken ev­ery pre­cau­tion to con­trol things like the Zika virus and will make it safe for the ath­letes, their fam­i­lies and sup­port­ers.

“Just like any other coun­try you visit – don’t go to the wrong ar­eas, don’t eat the wrong food, and just be a lit­tle bit more care­ful.”

Ca­ma­rood­een said Fli-Afrika Travel had, to date, sold just more than 4 000 match event tick­ets for the Olympics, but ex­pected to sell many more as sports fans were likely to make ar­range­ments at the 11th hour.

“Some ath­letes are still in the process of qual­i­fy­ing for the Rio Olympics and this could de­ter­mine the fi­nal num­bers of those who would be in­ter­ested.”

The most pop­u­lar events among South Africans are swim­ming and ath­let­ics, ac­cord­ing to Ca­ma­rood­een.

“Pre­vi­ously we had men’s and women’s hockey which was very pop­u­lar, but un­for­tu­nately they haven’t qual­i­fied for this year’s Games.

“Rugby tick­ets have also been very pop­u­lar amongst South Africans this year with the in­tro­duc­tion of the Rugby Sev­ens.”

While sales have been good for the Rio games, Ca­ma­rood- een said the 2012 Lon­don Olympics was more pop­u­lar.

“Lots of South Africans have fam­ily and friends liv­ing in Lon­don, so the des­ti­na­tion was more at­trac­tive.

“Also, South Africans could travel to dif­fer­ent coun­tries like Italy and Spain, and could make the most of their trip to Europe.”

Mean­while, South Africa’s Lee- Anne Pace be­came the first woman golfer to with­draw from the Rio Olympics, say­ing she would not play in Brazil be­cause she fears con­tract­ing the Zika virus.

“I was very much look­ing for­ward to the op­por­tu­nity,” Pace told the me­dia on Thurs­day.

“How­ever, over re­cent months my team has been mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion re­gard­ing the Zika virus and find­ing out as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble. After weigh­ing up all the op­tions and dis­cussing it with my fam­ily and team, I have de­cided that due to the health con­cerns I will not be par­tic­i­pat­ing.”

Many of the world’s topranked men’s golf play­ers have also said no to Rio, in­clud­ing top-ranked Ja­son Day of Aus­tralia, his coun­try­men Adam Scott and Marc Leish­man, Fiji’s Vi­jay Singh, South Africans Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Bran­den Grace, and po­ten­tial Ir­ish team mem­bers Rory McIl­roy, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDow­ell.

Aside from Zika virus con­cerns, the Rio Games have also been dogged by ac­cu­sa­tions of in­com­pe­tence, cor­rup­tion and fears that Brazil is not fully ready to stage the event.

UK news­pa­per The Ex­press re­ported that those trav­el­ling to Rio de Janeiro this week were greeted by a sign at the city’s air­port say­ing ‘wel­come to hell’, and warn­ing them emer­gency ser­vices were un­der­staffed and un­der­paid.

The Rio Olympic Games will be staged from Au­gust 5 to 21. sameer.naik@inl.co.za

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