Zim Olympians in Zika fear

DURBAN - As most leading sportspersons boycott the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro due to the Zika virus, it seems Zimbabwean athletes going to Brazil are in the dark about the epidemic.

Dozens of world-renowned sportspersons have pulled out of the global event that begins on August 5 in the Brazilian capital saying they cannot risk the safety of their families due to the virus.

The mosquito-borne virus has been spreading like a veld fire in the Americas since it was first reported in May 2015.

Pregnant women and those looking to procreate in the future are at the highest risk of contract Zika.

As many as 25 Zimbabwean athletes, mainly women, are expected to travel to Rio de Janeiro with the greater part of that number seemingly unaware of dangers of the disease.

“I’m getting a bit scared because we have not had any meetings to be educated on this; I’m only hearing rumours,” Rutendo Nyahora, who will be competing in the 42km race, told the Daily News on Sunday.

The bulk of the Zimbabwean female athletes will come from the Mighty Warriors squad, who made history by becoming the first national football team to qualify for a global tournament.

The Mighty warriors are also in the dark about the disease.

“I’m hearing about it for the first time,” Mighty Warriors captain Felistas “Figo” Muzongondi said when asked about the dangers of the Zika virus by the Daily News on Sunday.

Zimbabwe’s swimming sensation Kirsty Coventry seems to be one of the few, who will be entering Brazil with a clear head, adamant she will compete in spite of the health concerns.

“I won’t be put off by very minimal risk from Zika and I cannot wait for the Olympic Games,” she said.

This was in contrast to world top ranked golfer Jason Day, who last month became the seventh major champion to withdraw from the Games, following in the footsteps of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Vijay Singh and Graeme McDowell.

Zimbabwe’s leading golfer Brendon de Jonge, who competes on the PGA Tour, has also pulled out of the Olympics due to Zika.

US cyclist Tejay van Garderen also decided he will not be going to Rio because his wife is pregnant.

McIlroy, who is hoping to start a family with his fiancee Erica Stoll, said in a statement: “After speaking with those closest to me, I've come to realise that my health and my family's health comes before anything else.”

The Irish golfer said he would not be even watching the golf competition at the Olympics.

Like McIlroy Coventry, 32, is hoping to start a family with her husband Tyrone.

“I know every athlete has the right to his/her own decision when it comes to this topic...but why would you not want to Represent Your Country, Your Sport and Your Fans? As an Older, Competing, Female, Athlete looking to start a family soon, surely I should have the most to worry about,” she said.

The Zimbabwe Olympic Committee (Zoc) raised fears for women preparing for the Rio Olympics in Brazil where Zika has left more than 4 000 newborns with shrunken heads and infected at least 1, 5 million people.

As of January 23 2016, it had spread to 21 countries of the Americas, according to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) prompting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare the outbreak a global health emergency.

Female spectators and athletes of childbearing age are now being warned by medical professionals around the world to consider trips to Brazil 'carefully' ahead of the Olympic Games this August.

“The issue of the Zika virus is of grave concern to all national associations who have teams or potential teams or athletes planning to travel to Rio for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games,” chairperson of the Zoc medical commission Margie Gibson said recently.

“Zoc will continue to monitor this issue and provide the National Associations with updates; the safety and well-being of our athletes is of paramount importance.”

The World Health Organisation has warned that the mosquito-borne virus was “spreading explosively” in the Americas, and said the region could see up to four million Zika cases this year alone.

WHO is under pressure to act quickly in the fight against Zika, after admitting it was slow to respond to the recent Ebola outbreak that ravaged parts of west Africa.

In a recent statement the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) which working with its member states to slow the spread of this virus said they were doing all they can to contain the virus.

However, organizers of the biggest multi-sport extravaganza are not giving up in efforts to combat the virus.

Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, said he did not believe the Zika virus outbreak would affect the Olympics in August.

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