The United States Olympic Committee doesn’t believe its athletes will pull out of this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, due to potential health risks.
The Rio Olympics have already been tarnished by reports of polluted water in Guanabara Bay, which is scheduled to host sailing, open water swimming and triathlon races. The outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil is another major concern. The virus has been linked to birth defects in babies.
USOC chief executive officer Scott Blackmun, speaking to a group representing the Associated Press Sports Editors on Friday morning in New York City, characterized dealing with the Zika virus and water quality as “manageable.” He also didn’t think athletes who have spent years training and competing would miss an opportunity to go to Rio, despite the health risks.
“Is it serious? Yes,” Blackmun said when addressing the Zika virus. “Is it something that’s going to change athletes’ opinions whether he or she wants to go to the Games? I would say no.”
Blackmun said the USOC sent a group to Rio three weeks ago to check on preparations for the Olympics, which will be held Aug. 5-21. Blackmun said the clean up of the bay water is at 60 percent, adding that it’s “a lot better than zero percent.”
“I think the closer the athletes get to competing in Rio, the less likely it is” for athletes to reconsider participating, Blackmun said.
“I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of Zeka, but if you get the virus, there is a 1 in 4 chance that you will ever have the symptoms or that you have the virus,” he said.
Hope Solo, the star goaltender for the U.S. women’s soccer team, told multiple media outlets in February that she might skip the Rio Olympics out of fear of contracting the virus and impacting her ability to have a family. Solo, however, told SI.com in a statement earlier this month that she would participate in the Olympics despite the Zika virus.
“For young people thinking about having families, whether it’s women or men, there is still uncertainty about whether it is safe to have a family if you go down to Rio and you come back with the Zika virus,” Blackmun said.
Reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, who is a finalist to make the U.S. women’s basketball team, has battled Lyme disease, causing her to miss games while at the University of Delaware and during her second pro season with the Chicago Sky. Delle Donne, speaking at the 2016 espnW: Women + Sports event in Chicago earlier this week, told espnW’s Julie Foudy that she would participate in Rio — if she were to be selected for the team — and wasn’t worried about the Zika virus.
Blackmun said some USOC staff members have declined to go to Rio because of the health risks, but he added it wasn’t a “significant” number. He said the USOC will have medical staff in Rio ready to deal with any health issues. Blackmun also said the USOC is working with the University of Utah on blood testing in preparation for the Games.
“Our job is just to make sure everybody is as informed as possible, for our athletes to be protected to the greatest extent possible,” Blackmun said.