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Money helps athletes’ decision on whether to face Zika in Rio

Bulls center Pau Gasol says he is considering not playing in the Rio Olympics because of the Zika virus. The Spanish basketball player says there is too much uncertainty about the situation in Brazil.
(AP Photo/Darren Hauck, File)

The Zika virus is going to be the measure of which athletes really need the Olympics.

My guess is that you’ll see golf, tennis, men’s soccer and men’s basketball lose some star power as wealthy competitors decide the reward of a medal is not worth the risk of contracting the virus. Athletes from less-popular sports who need it for their livelihood will travel to the Rio Games.

Bulls center Paul Gasol, who competes for Spain, said he’s thinking about sitting out because of the threat of Zika.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see some athletes deciding not to participate in the games to avoid putting their health and the health of their families at risk,” he said. “… I’m thinking about (whether or not to go). Just like every athlete, or any other person considering going to Rio, should be thinking about it.”

Gasol has enough money to last 100 lifetimes. Athletes who build their lives around the Olympics every four years might be willing to roll the dice for the chance at gold and financial freedom. That beach volleyball player looking for international exposure and endorsement deals? That wrestler who might strike it rich with a good performance? Their decision might be a lot harder than the one Gasol faces.

Zika is linked to brain damage in infants. Mosquitoes spread the virus, but there have been verified cases of it spreading through sexual transmission. The obsessiveness that goes with being a world-class athlete tends to plow through any obstacle, no matter how serious. Even Zika.

I don’t think the Games should be played in Rio because of the health and security risks. A group of 150 health experts recently called for the Olympics to be moved or postponed because of Zika, but the World Health Organization didn’t agree.

Now it’s an individual’s choice, one that might not be based on health for some athletes.