Ah, the Olympics. The two-week-and-change event that ties competition in non-mainstream sports to our allegiance to our nation.
Whether you’re a wholehearted flag-waver or a casual fan of gymnastics, basketball or rowing with little patriotism, there’s a good chance you pay some kind of attention to your TV every four years when the summer Olympics roll around.
Except this summer, there’s a chance you won’t be tuning in at all. A virus, of all things, could have the potential to undermine the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Meet the Zika virus: a mosquito-borne disease with no known cure that has led to several reports of birth defects and potential sexual transmission.
There is speculation that the Zika virus was brought to Brazil while the country hosted the 2014 World Cup.
Ridiculousness aside for hosting the two major international sporting events within two years of each other, the Zika virus is shaping up to be a major problem in Brazil and could put the entire Olympic games in jeopardy.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff even declared “war” on mosquitoes last week, pressing for further research into developing a vaccine for the Zika virus, according to a recent article in BBC.
Authorities in Brazil have reported around 4,000 cases of infants born with a birth defect known as microcephaly, a condition that causes the babies to be born with abnormally small heads, that is linked to Zika.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the best form of prevention as just “protection against mosquito bites.”
Suggesting simply to avoid being bitten is not exactly a revolutionary word of advice to tourists when everyone, almost all the time, tries their best to not get bitten by mosquitos.
Clearly there is reason for concern. The Olympics are essentially a stretched out, glorified tourist trap, where people from every nation on the planet have interest in attending. People from across the globe have already travelled to countries where the Zika virus is prevalent and returned home infected.
For the nearly 500,000 expected overseas visitors, a number similar to the London Olympics, this summer games could provide the platform for a worldwide pandemic.
Not only are spectators at risk, but the world class athletes traveling to Rio to compete in the games are also in danger.
Researchers are working to decide how risky proceeding with the games would be to the worldwide spread of the virus. Nonetheless, representatives from the WHO have insisted that a postponement or cancellation of the games would be highly unlikely.
If I were a gambling man, (which I’m not, especially after my Super Bowl prediction flopped last week) I would bet that the games will proceed as scheduled. Too much effort has been made to prepare for the games for organizers to shut down them down for a disease that we have such limited information on.
Nonetheless, it seems that new reports on the nature, side effects and transmission of the disease reach the press daily.
It’s certainly noteworthy—and, furthermore, alarming—that the spread of this disease has picked up a such a large head of steam with no known cure. But it’s already 2016, and the games are scheduled to start in a matter of months.
Time will tell if we’ll see the first postponement to the Olympic games since the 1940 Tokyo games, which were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II.
This is something to keep an eye on leading up to the games in Rio—especially if you’re an Olympics junkie like me. And if you’re an athlete or a spectator… you better stock up on bug spray.