The Summer Olympics in Rio begin in less than six months, but there is growing concern about the health and safety of athletes who will compete there in the wake of the Zika virus outbreak.
The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) has told its U.S. sports federations that athletes should consider not going to the Olympics if they are concerned about the Zika virus, Reuters reported on Monday.
Two people who were on a USOC conference call in January — Donald Anthony, president and board chairman of USA Fencing, and Will Connell, Director of Sport at the U.S. Equestrian Federation — told Reuters about the USOC’s message.
“They said no one who has reasons to be concerned should feel obliged to go,” Connell told Reuters. “If an athlete feels that way, of course they may decide not to go.”
Anthony, a former Olympian, told Reuters: “One of the things that [the USOC] 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.”
Travel to places with the Zika virus, which causes a birth defect, has been discouraged. From Reuters:
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.
Both women and men could have concerns about the Zika virus. On Friday, the CDC said men who live in or have traveled to Zika-affected areas might want to abstain from sexual activity or use condoms, Reuters reported.
Alan Ashley, the chief of sport performance for the USOC, and other USOC officials briefed the leaders of the federations on the January conference call. Ashley did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters. USOC spokesperson Mark Jones confirmed in an email to Reuters that the briefing on the conference call took place but declined to comment further.
The Zika outbreak in Brazil has been accompanied by more than 4,000 cases of suspected microcephaly since last year, according to the report. Zika outbreaks have been reported in 33 countries, most of them in the Americas.
Connell said the guidance could get updated closer to the Olympics, which take place Aug. 5-21.