For months, the question bugging Olympic athletes hasn’t been about what they’re doing on the field or track, or in the pool or gym, in preparation of this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. It’s whether they’re going to attend the Brazil-hosted Games at all.
There is good reason, too. With the mosquito-spread Zika sweeping across the Americas, spending two weeks near the epicenter of the virus probably doesn’t sound too appealing.
But, hey, it is the Olympics. Which is why athletes are doing what they must to ensure their health and the health of their family members – current and future, apparently.
Worried about the potential effects of the virus, Britain’s Greg Rutherford is taking an unorthodox measure in that regard. He will be freezing a sample of his sperm before traveling to Brazil.
According to an article for Standard Issue penned by the reigning Olympic long jump champion’s girlfriend, Susie Verrill, the couple would like to have children in the future and didn’t “want to put myself in a situation which could have been prevented.”
The concern isn’t unfounded. Although the primary mode of transmission is mosquito bite, according to the CDC, a male can pass on the Zika virus to a partner via his sperm, which can be affected by the virus for longer than a person’s blood.
Verrill also revealed that she and the couple’s son, Milo, will not be traveling to Brazil for the Games, although she spends as much time expounding on the logistical problems with attending the Olympics – “Remember the time someone had loads of fun spending £6,000 on flights to Rio and two days shuttling to and from a stadium without a pram but with a feisty toddler? No, me neither” – as she does the worry over Zika.
“The Zika news has caused no end of concern if we’re totally honest,” Verrill said. “We’re not ones to worry unnecessarily, but after more than 100 medical experts stressed the Games should be moved to prevent the disease from spreading, this was a huge factor in us choosing to stay put.”
The article comes less than a week after American cyclist Tejay van Garderen announced his decision to pull out of the Rio Games due to Zika. Golfer Vijay Singh had already decided to skip the Olympics because of the virus in April, and dozens more athletes have expressed their concern over the virus and its spread for months.
“Some of these athletes [I spoke to] are planning to have children in the near future and this could affect them, it could affect the health of their kids and their wives,” Chicago Bulls and Spanish basketball star Pau Gasol said in May. “Their health should come first.”
But those opting not participate – so far – are few and far between.
“It’s the Olympics. Mosquitoes? Like, whatever. I’m going,” U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas told the Associated Press this week. “This is my shot. I don’t care about no stupid bugs.”
American soccer star Alex Morgan told Health magazine in May: “The Zika virus is definitely a concern.”
“You don’t know how long the virus lasts in your system, and that’s an issue for someone who’s trying to get pregnant,” she continued. “I am concerned, but I really do trust the International Olympic Committee about traveling in Brazil. It is kind of scary.”
Fear has led Spain’s Olympic committee to commit to bringing 3,000 bottles of insect repellent to Rio. It has also recommended pregnant women in their delegation not go, which is what the CDC recommended in February.
“There are steps you can take to protect yourself,” swimmer Natalie Coughlin, a 12-time Olympic medalist, said in March. “And while we are gathering information about this virus, I’m just going to continue to do what I’ve done in the past: Listen to the people who are the true scientists.”
While research is still being conducted on the spread of the virus, Brazilian Olympic officials are trying to quash concern for their upcoming Games.
“It is worth knowing that the incidence of the mosquito that transmits the virus is extremely low in August and September, which is winter in Brazil and the period in which the Rio 2016 Games will take place,” Joao Grangeiro, Rio 2016’s chief medical officer, said in a news concern Tuesday. He added: “Furthermore, we have conducted 44 test events this year, the majority of them in the summer, the peak period for Zika. With more than 7,000 athletes, 8,000 volunteers and 2,000 staff participating, there was not a single case of [infection].”