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Olympic Games: Zika updates from around the World as Rio 2016 draws ever closer
by Michael O'Neill
February 13, 2016

(FEB 13) The International Olympic Committee (IOC), National sports federations round the world and of course athletes themselves are all seeking the latest updates on the Zika outbreak and what effect it could have on stars and visitors alike when the XXX1 Olympiad opens its doors to welcome ‘the world’ in August.

Here WBAN brings you the ‘latest news’ as at the time of writing as to what advice is being sought and received through the various interested parties and we also have the thoughts of some of the athletes inc current Olympic champion boxer, Ireland’s Katie Taylor.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has been telling U.S media outlets including the Associated Press and CNN and ABC that:

“The U.S. Olympic Committee will bring in two infectious disease specialists to give advice to athletes ahead of the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro this summer”.

In a letter sent to athletes, Scott Blackmum, the CEO of the USOC, said the athletes' well-being was the "highest priority."

"I know that the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil is of concern to many of you," Blackmun said, according to the AP. "I want to emphasize that it is to us, as well, and that your well-being in Rio this summer is our highest priority."

The disease specialists will be on-site in Brazil to advise athletes about the Zika virus.

We have comment from Olympians, and also include the very latest advice from the International Olympic Committee’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Richard Budgett who briefed the Associated Press on that subject on Thursday.

In a lengthy interview, the IOC medical director said "everything that can be done is being done" to combat the virus in Brazil and provide safe conditions for athletes at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Dr. Budgett told “AP” that there are no health warnings against traveling to Brazil, except for pregnant women.

"Our priority is to protect the health of the athletes, he went on : "The IOC absolutely is not complacent. We do take this very seriously. ... Everything is being done to contain and reduce this problem in the lead-up to the Games."

"We can give the reassurance that authorities in Brazil are taking it extremely seriously.

"Concern and worry is appropriate, but there is no restriction on travel," Budgett added. "People need to take measures to avoid being bitten and be sensible. There is no recommendation from health authorities to change travel plans."

Had the IOC considered calling the Games off?

"Absolutely not," he went on. "No one from the public authorities or World Health Organization or government ministry are actually saying we should even consider cancelling the games."

British followers of Sport know Dr. Budgett very well since as a rower he won Olympic gold alongside Sir Steve Redgrave in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

He attended the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics as the doctor for the British Bobsleigh Team, and the 1998, 2002, and 2006 Games as Chief Medical Officer to the British Team.

He also led the Team GB HQ Medical Team at the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Summer Olympic Games, and London 2012 was his 12th Olympic Games. He is presently again with the GB team at the Youth Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

So what do the athletes themselves think? What are their concerns? United States soccer star Hope Solo had this to say:

"All I can do is speak for myself. If the Olympics were today, I would not go," she earlier this week in Frisco, Texas.

Budgett said comments such as Solo's are both ‘positive and negative’.

"It shows people are taking their health seriously and want to protect their health. That's good," he said. "It's negative in that it's not actually following the advice of health authorities."

Ultimately, he said, the choice is up to each individual.

"You certainly can never force anyone to go," he said. "We just have to keep reiterating the official advice of world health authorities."

The agent of leading British track and field star, Jessica Ennis has called for the British Olympic Association to move its pre-Olympic training camp from Brazil to a Zika free country though no GB stars have as yet said or implied they would not attend the Games in Rio.

In Ireland, OCI Chief Executive, Stephen Martin confirmed that : "Our medical team met the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Health.

"They will be forwarding comprehensive information and guidance documents to team leaders, support staff and athletes on our Rio longlist. "

Stephen won an Olympic gold medal with the Great Britain hockey team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics to go with a bronze from Los Angeles four years earlier.

Aileen Reid competed for Ireland at London 2012 in the Triathlon and is a medal contender for Rio.

She is aware of the dangers posed by the virus, as she told the ‘Belfast Telegraph’.

"I know about the Zika situation. It seems the major concern would be for people who are trying to have a baby.

"That's going to affect a lot of the athletes because what you tend to find is that in the year after an Olympic Games many athletes have babies and take a break well in advance of the next Olympics.

"So it will affect both male and female athletes who are trying for a baby."

As for possible medication to combat the virus, Aileen (33) told the newspaper: "I really don't want to be taking any medication that I don't absolutely have to. You don't want to take anything that might affect your performance after four years of preparation."

Aileen in fact took part in an Olympic test event in Rio last year. "We were informed that the water quality for the swim was not the best but we were promised moves are afoot to have everything up to scratch for the Olympics in the summer," she explained.

"As far as I am concerned, the Zika virus is just another obstacle we have to prepare for."

What about one of Ireland’s main hopes in Rio, boxer Katie Taylor. She has been in Cork this week speaking at the iWish Conference encouraging young people to study STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). As one of Ireland’s most loved athlete and a great roel model she regularly is called upon to speak to and inspire students, young and old, male and female.

Is she concerned about Zika? Speaking to delegates and later with media sources in Cork , the Bray woman commented:

“It’s not really something that I’m thinking too much about at the moment, it’s definitely out of my control,” she said at Thursday’s I WISH conference in Cork City Hall.

“At the moment I’m just focusing on getting to Rio first thing, and to qualify, and once I qualify hopefully I start thinking about that. I know that the Olympic Council of Ireland are doing everything they can do to prepare us for those viruses and to protect us when we are over there. It’s not really something that I would be too worried about, as I said, it’s out of my control. We’ve had a few meetings with them already, with the athletes, so they are preparing us for those situations,” she said.

She repeated that athletes had been kept informed via both Irish Sports Council (Sport Ireland) and the Olympic Council.

So that’s the latest we have on Zika situation though we understand that the Rio 2016 Organisers will be communicating with all National Federations and IOC members in the days ahead and thus we will update you again in the coming weeks. Meantime do seek out your own National Federation’s advice and check out the latest from both CDC and WHO.

The excellent CDC site is regularly updated on the subject as indeed is the World Health Organisation’s but athletes and spectators will also have different queries and concerns thus do check out a few sites including those mentioned while major media organisations around the world will also keep you updated on news.


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