Swimmers Watchful On Zika As They Look To IOC, Feds & Health Bosses For Rio 2016 Call

Mireia Belmonte - by P atrick B. Kraemer

Authorities Olympic and Health are coming under pressure to upgrade advice and reassurances – if those can legitimately be provided – over the Zika virus in the face of evidence from Brazil, the Olympic host city of Rio de Janeiro included, that microcephaly, a birth defect characterised by an abnormally small head that can result in developmental problems poses a serious threat for women athletes

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Authorities Olympic and Health are coming under pressure to upgrade advice and reassurances – if those can legitimately be provided – over the Zika virus in the face of evidence from Brazil, the Olympic host city of Rio de Janeiro included, that microcephaly, a birth defect characterised by an abnormally small head that can result in developmental problems poses a serious threat for women athletes



Here is a report from 2009 relating to cases of microcephaly in the U.S. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19752457). 25000 cases a year, and nothing to do with zika. The condition can be caused by any, “insult,” to the brain. This could be a fall, or an effect of malnutrition, exposure to drugs or chemicals: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/microcephaly/basics/causes/con-20034823
In Brazil, there are large areas with poor sanitation; the use of pesticides which are banned in other countries. To cite zika as a such a huge threat is a big stretch. All this does is create fear. Oh, and a lot of money for big pharma.

Craig Lord

I’m sure you have a point, Ger – the WHO intervention, of course, raises the game … and comes with advice that suggests risk in the hearts and minds of a great many folk; thanks for the links, many won’t be reading that deeply.


It easy for you to say so. We have a synchronized swimmer in the family who will compete in Rio. It is her fourth Olympic Games. She was close but still has no medals. She is 31 and because of being dedicated to sport for so long and so much – no children. What should we say to her? To forward Ger’s links?

Craig Lord

None of that is easy for anyone, I would hope Yozhik – but I do indeed recommend to anyone the reading and making up your own mind. I think you tell your athlete what all athletes should think about: the faith you have in those big organisations – the ones that have tolerated wide scale doping, invited corruption into their midst, looked the other way when far too many bad things have happened – and failed to tackle those things – is it well placed? Do you trust what you are being told? Have you asked to see the latest advice? Are regular updates being sent to you? If not, why not? If you have the slightest doubt, then get reading – and read deep. And then make up your mind: worth it or not? Not an easy decision, should it come to that. Hopefully it won’t – it would be a terrible position to place athletes who have worked hard for this season, for the once-in-for-years moment. The issue may sink to insignificant (which it could do) or, in the event of it being just as big an issue if not bigger come the hour, a big authority may turn round and say ‘either move the Games or forget it’ (not unthinkable in certain situations but very doubtful in this one as we know it so far). I would recommend reading all terms and conditions, however boring. I do know that all FINA delegates heading to Rio in official capacity will be heavily insured for all medical eventualities including being flown back to their home country if such a thing were required. Hefty cover in place for those wearing the FINA badge and attending a short meeting, a Congress session and so forth while down in Rio – but that does not extend to those providing the show. I assume national federations and Olympic committees are responsible for that. Of course, such things wouldn’t help the woman who wants to start a family within two years and may need to take a test to make sure it is safe to proceed. Good luck to your athlete – I hope it all turns out well.


Gheko, I’m not a doctor to give qualified opinion on this topic and this site is not a place to do so any way. Craig, highlighted the issue – athletes has to be fully informed about situation and risk involved. Not from media, not from doctors but from the sport officials who have to take all responsibilities of athlete’s health and have to use the most reliable and trustworthy sources. No political or economical considerations should be involved. Is it possible? I have doubts about that. So women who are about to finish their career in sport have serious thoughts if it worth to endanger their family life. It is not all about them anymore. There is a difference between being infected by dengue (or even ebola) and zika. If you survived at former cases you may not that healthy as used to be, but still a normal member of society. The child with damaged or degenerative brain has no future and is constant pain and tragedy to family for years.


The one thing that we can rely upon the relative sporting officials doing is to dither, prevaricate and essentially NOT make a decision until it is forced upon them by necessity and all other possible alternatives no longer possible.

And by this I include national federations as well as the global controlling bodies. And hey, I DO understand their motivation. Would you willingly pass up an all expenses paid vacation ….. which in essence such Olympic and major events ARE for the bulk of the blazeratti & bureaucrats in tracksuits who attach themselves to so many teams ?

There most certainly is a degree of overkill in some of the reporting; Rio is further south than the major areas of concern however some of the football venues ARE located further north in cities within these areas.

We can have no doubt that “control/eradication” efforts will be made both before and during the Games however, given the actual delivery of undertakings made on other issues; do we not have good grounds for scepticism ?


There is obviously a very real and extremely serious risk of microcephaly for babies born to mothers within 2 years of a previous infection.

For female athletes not planning a family within 2 years and male athletes, I think the risks are minimum, manageable and as usual have been grossly overstated by the mainstream media.

As someone who has had a few family holidays in mosquito/malaria areas, mozzie bite prevention is easily achieved though practical steps well known and will reduce risk of being bitten dramatically. Only 1 in 5 people who are infected with Zika actually become ill (ie develop Zika). So if you are bitten notwithstanding prevention measures taken and the mozzie is an infected one and you are one of the unlucky one in five to develop Zika, you will have mild flu like symptoms for a few days to a week (source CDC).

As with all trips to foreign countries, Zika is one of the risks to accept and manage. If you have family contemplating a trip to Rio for the games rather don’t rely on mainstream media for info but access WHO, CDC and reliable country travel advisory websites regarding all risks medical and other.

Craig Lord

Thanks BoetMate and Yozhik – the official advice and professional medical guidance is the way to go; coupled with keeping yourself as well-informed as possible (as with any travel and the choices we make). I do think that for that risk category, there should be a better flow of information from the IOC and national OCs and feds that is available to some but not to many across the world: certainly better advice than ‘make sure you have access to good abortion facilities’ – I realise why that is there but the reality for a great many nations who will send athletes to Rio is something else. Education and trust in those feeding you official advice are very important – and that all the more so when trust in sports governors has been badly eroded, not just because of the bad but because of the silent and the see no, hear no, speak no…


Craig, I fully agree government advisories (from their relevant departments of foreign affairs or however they’re named) from most Western or developed countries will almost always be reality and common-sense based.

At this point, they are generally at the level of “make your own judgements” and “exercise due caution” and flagged as such rather than advising “do not go” or the like.

The issue is the level of independence from government of the various sporting bodies in many countries and what pressures may/will be brought to bear in whatever direction.


The thing is, my friends, that it is exactly what the medical authorities are saying up until now which is not very reassuring. It might have blown out of proportion and hopefully we are all going to call “false alarm” a few months from now, but if the official stance of said authorities does not change, it will pose a serious question for athletes, especially females. Would you take the chance, whatever your insurance policy covers? It’s a nightmare of a choice for an Olympian hopeful.

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