Zika virus, political unrest, sagging ticket sales causing doubt ahead of Rio Olympics
Experts temper concerns, say Games will likely go on
The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are slated to start in August, but there are rumblings of concern about civil unrest, and the threat of the Zika virus still looms large.
The question of whether or not Rio can pull off the Olympic Games has been debated for months, but with the Opening Ceremonies less than three months away, the rhetoric is becoming more urgent: Is it possible that the Olympics would ever be postponed?
A backdrop of unease
This week, a leading Canadian public health professor urged the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Games as a “precautionary concession” to prevent the Zika virus from growing into a “forseeable global catastrophe.”
As for Brazil’s political climate, the word “crisis” seems to be a constant descriptor. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment. The country is now under the leadership of interim President Michael Temer, who says the country is facing “the worst economic crisis” in its history.
“Eleven million unemployed, inflation up two digits, deficit of 100 billion reals and the situation of health care in Brazil is chaotic,” he said after assuming his temporary office.
On top of it all, ticket sales for the Games are slow and athletes have expressed concern for their health and safety.
Do all of these concerns really warrant serious talk about postponement or boycotting? According to experts, the answer is generally, no. Here’s why:
On Zika fears: Winter in Rio means low mosquito threat
The Olympics are occurring in August, which is the middle of winter for the southern hemisphere. While winter in Rio may not be the type of winter we in the States are used to, it is the coolest and driest time of year in Brazil. That affects mosquito populations, including that of the Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries the Zika virus.
“The way the life cycle of the Aedes mosquito goes is that a female will lay their eggs on surfaces of small water containers and the eggs will hatch when the water level rises,” explained Professor Uriel Kitron, chair of Emory University’s Environmental Science unit, and a longtime researcher of the Aedes aegypti. “So during the dry season, very often the eggs will just stay there and will not hatch until the rainy season comes, in the fall and in the spring.”
While some mosquitoes live through the winter as adults, the Aegypti overwinters as eggs, so that could mean few adults would be around to bite during August, says Kitron, especially if government efforts to spray repellant throughout Rio during the cooler month of July are successful.
Of course, that would mean the city would also need to clean up any standing water sources that do not dry up.
On the political climate: Minimal impact on Games, says IOC
The International Olympic Committee has said it is monitoring the political situation in Brazil, but is not worried. “These kinds of political issues have much less influence than at other stages of organizing the Olympic Games,” the IOC said.
Security concerns are naturally present at any high-profile international event, and Olympic organizers say 85,000 soldiers and police are scheduled to be on duty for the Games.
For some, Brazil’s current struggles are just more of the same, which should temper foretellings of Olympic doom. Regys Silva, a Brazilian lawyer and sports enthusiast, told CNN his country “always has a crisis,” and it is because of this that he’s confident the Games will be a success. “We have our Brazilian way of making things work,” he said. “It won’t be perfect. We expect that, and we have done since the beginning.”
On athlete attendance: Superstars ready to go, taking precautions
While some athletes have pulled out of the Games, the bulk of big-draw international stars are ready to go. Brazilian football phenom Neymar is scheduled to play, and American athletes have reinforced their decision to attend.
U.S. women’s soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo said earlier this week that she’s excited for the Olympics and is committed to going, saying she’s a competitor first. But, at the same time, she said she is worried about the health issue – not just for herself, but also for her friends and family members who are coming.
“I’m going to take every precaution necessary,” Solo said in an interview with CNBC. “I’m not even sure I’m going to be leaving the hotel room outside of practice.”
U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin and hurdler Dawn Harper-Nelson have both said they’re not concerned.
“Whenever we travel anywhere, the USOC and USA Swimming always make sure we’re really well prepared and that they’ve done everything they can to keep us safe,” Franklin said in March.