Zika and the Rio Olympics: What You Need to Know

Growing concerns over Zika have officials debating whether or not to move the Olympic Games

Photo: Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty

Despite Brazilian Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani’s recent insistence that Rio de Janeiro is ready for the 2016 Olympics, global concern over the outbreak of the Zika virus has spectators and athletes wondering whether the Games should be moved to a new location – or if they should even be held at all.

Here is the latest on international reactions to Zika and precautions countries are taking to protect their athletes at the Games.

Antiviral condoms and anti-Zika uniforms

The Australian Olympic team will be provided with “Zika-proof” condoms as a way to fight off the virus this summer. The Dual Protect VivaGel condoms are “the world’s only antiviral condom,” according to manufacturer Starpharma Holdings Ltd. “Given sexual transmission of Zika virus is of increasing importance, the potent activity of Starpharma’s VivaGel against Zika could prove very significant,” chief executive officer Dr. Jackie Fairley said in a press release.

South Korea is also taking measures to ensure their athletes don’t contract the virus – with custom “anti-Zika” uniforms. Team members will wear tracksuits infused with insect repellant to keep mosquitos at bay. At the August 5 opening ceremony, they will sport long pants and blazers in order to protect their skin from bites.

American athlete reactions

Olympic anchors and Team USA hopefuls have varying reactions to the growing Zika threat in Brazil. Today Show co-host Savannah Guthrie, who is pregnant with her second child, announced that she will not travel to Rio. “You ll have to go to beach volleyball without me,” she said. Cyclist Tejay van Garderen was the first American athlete to withdraw his name from Olympic consideration. “She has a baby in her belly, I don’t want to talk any chances,” Garderen told CyclingTips of his pregnant wife. Chicago Bulls player Pau Gasol also expressed concern over Zika. “I’m thinking (about whether or not to go). Just like every athlete, or any other person considering going to Rio should be thinking about it,” Gasol told the Associated Press.

Other athletes, like Gabby Douglas, say they aren’t letting the looming threat of the mosquito-borne illness stand in their way of Olympic gold. “It’s the Olympics. Mosquitos? Like, whatever. I’m going. This is my shot. I don’t care about no stupid bugs,” she told AP.

Conflicting Official Statements

World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan said the organization sent top scientists four times to examine the Zika situation in Brazil (and to determine whether the Games should be cancelled) in a letter released on June 3, according to AP. “Given the current level of international concern, I have decided to ask members of the Zika Emergency Committee to examine the risks of holding the Olympic Summer Games as currently scheduled,” she wrote. Last month around 200 international scientific experts joined together to sign an open document requesting the Games be moved from Rio “in the name of public health.”

CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden has said there is “no public health reason” to cancel the Olympics though. “We’re working closely with the ISOC and Brazilian health authorities, and will update our guidance if needed,” Frieden said in response to the letter from officials, according to CNN.

Troublesome ticket sales

Olympic officials say 67 percent of tickets to the Games have been sold, which is significantly less than what was sold at this time in 2012. But organizers aren’t too worried. “Here in Brazil we have the culture to buy the tickets vey close to the event. We’ve sold more than expected at this point. In Brazil, we’re going to sell many more tickets a month ahead, or four or five days before the event,” ticket director Donovan Ferretti told USA Today. There are around 2 million tickets still left – with six million having been sold already.

USA Swimming leaves Puerto Rico

USA Swimming moved their Olympic training camp from Puerto Rico to Atlanta in May over Zika concerns. National team director Frank Busch reportedly sent a letter to athletes and coaches explaining the reason for the move. “As part of our preparations for the Olympic Games this summer, we have been closely monitoring the current situation with the Zika virus,” Busch wrote, according to the Associated Press. The training camp, which takes place in late July, will now be held at Georgia Tech aquatic center. “The health and safety of our athletes is USA Swimming’s primary priority and responsibility,” USA swimming spokesman Scott Leightman said.

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