News / USA

    USOC: US Athletes Should Stay Home if Worried About Zika

    Olympic mascots are seen at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome, Feb. 7, 2016.
    Olympic mascots are seen at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome, Feb. 7, 2016.
    Reuters

    The United States Olympic Committee told U.S. sports federations that athletes and staff concerned for their health over the Zika virus should consider not going to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in August.

    The message was delivered in a conference call involving USOC officials and leaders of U.S. sport federations in late January, according to two people who participated in the call.

    Federations were told that no one should go to Brazil "if they don't feel comfortable going. Bottom line," said Donald Anthony, president and board chairman of USA Fencing.

    The USOC's briefing to sport federations is the latest sign that Olympics officials are taking the Zika threat to the games in Rio de Janeiro seriously, and acknowledging that at least some athletes and support staff could face a tough decision over whether to attend.

    U.S. medal count

    The United States won most medals at the last Olympics in London in 2012, so any disruption to its presence would be important for the Rio games.

    Global health authorities suspect the mosquito-borne Zika virus has caused a spike in Brazil of microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an abnormally small head.

    As a result, the World Health Organization declared an international health emergency Feb. 1, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising pregnant women or those considering becoming pregnant to avoid travel to places with Zika outbreaks.

    The USOC's Alan Ashley, its chief of sport performance, and other USOC officials, briefed the leaders of the federations.

    Ashley did not respond to email or phone calls requesting comment.

    USOC spokesman Mark Jones confirmed by email that Ashley had "briefed federation leaders on the CDC's recommendations and we will continue to ensure that athletes and officials affiliated with Team USA receive any updates from the CDC."

    The USOC has not issued its own set of recommendations for athletes and staff beyond what the CDC and WHO have issued.

    Jones declined to comment further.

    'Especially for women'

    Recalling the conference call, Anthony, a former Olympian, said: "One of the things that they immediately said was, especially for women that may be pregnant or even thinking of getting pregnant, that whether you are scheduled to go to Rio or no, that you shouldn't go."

    "And no one should go if they feel at all as though that that threat could impact them," said Anthony, who praised the USOC's handling of the outbreak so far.

    Zika outbreaks have been reported in 33 countries, most of them in the Americas. Symptoms of infection often are mild or imperceptible. But the outbreak in Brazil that began last year has been accompanied by more than 4,000 cases of suspected microcephaly; investigators have confirmed more than 400. The link to Zika is unproven but strongly suspected.

    In El Salvador, which is experiencing outbreaks of the virus, women are being advised to put off pregnancy until 2018.

    Will Connell, Director of Sport at the U.S. Equestrian Federation, said the USOC was leaving the decision up to individual athletes and staff members.

    "They said no one who has reasons to be concerned should feel obliged to go," Connell said. "If an athlete feels that way, of course they may decide not to go."

    During the call, the USOC did not indicate they were concerned that large numbers of athletes would avoid Rio or that Zika could derail the Games, the two federation leaders said.

    Minimizing risk

    Instead, officials expressed optimism that risk would be minimized by close cooperation among health agencies, mosquito control efforts and the Games' timing during Brazil's winter when mosquito-borne illnesses are less common.

    The USOC officials on the call said the organization would adhere to the recommendations of health agencies including the CDC, the sport federation leaders said.

    "As we get closer to the Olympics the guidance could get updated," Connell said.

    In a Jan. 29 letter from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to national committees, the IOC's chief doctors said they were monitoring the situation closely.

    They passed along mosquito avoidance advice, but remained confident the games would go ahead as planned.

    Both Connell and U.S. Fencing's Anthony said the USOC's message was focused primarily on the potential risks for women who are pregnant or are thinking about trying to become pregnant.

    Since the call, the CDC has issued more guidance in light of increasing suspicion that Zika can be transmitted sexually. The CDC said Friday that men who reside in or have traveled to Zika-affected areas may want to abstain from sexual activity or use condoms.

    Latin America showcase

    The Olympics have long promised to be a triumphant showcase for Latin America, which is playing host to the global sports spectacle for the first time. Rio has also been expecting more than 380,000 tourists for the Games, which come as Brazil's economy is mired in recession and its government reels from a corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras.

    An ongoing Zika epidemic could prompt some athletes, staff, sponsors and high-spending tourists to steer clear of the Games. Even if the risk of infection to any given visitor is very low – as health experts expect – uncertainties persist. There is no Zika vaccine, and currently available blood tests cannot always detect the virus.

    Olympics officials "are taking the right approach from a standpoint of, let's be cautious, do not do anything that is going to put anybody, our staff or our athletes in danger," Anthony said.

    Anthony said no U.S. fencers had spoken to him about Zika.

    "I think our athletes are aware," he said. "But it has not become a mission critical issue yet. Not yet."

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora