Except in times of world wars, the Olympic Games always go on. That’s the way it should be.
The Rio Games will begin Aug. 5. There are questions about Rio de Janeiro’s readiness to accommodate and keep safe 10,000 athletes, foreign news media and possibly 500,000 Olympic fans amid economic and political turmoil in Brazil.
Some see the Zika virus as a greater threat. Golfers Jason Day of Australia and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland are among a handful of athletes to pull out of the Olympics because of concerns about Zika, a disease that can be transmitted sexually and is especially dangerous to pregnant women. The disease causes serious and sometimes deadly birth defects to babies born to infected mothers.
In May 150 doctors, scientists and bioethicists signed a letter urging the World Health Organization to call for the Games to be moved or postponed because of the potential for the mosquito-borne virus to spread in greater numbers around the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the other hand, hasn’t gone that far. Instead, it is advising that travelers take precautions.
Leaving it up to the athletes on whether to compete is the best way to approach Zika. Most of them won’t hesitate to go.
“Athletes are completely consumed by this life mission,” said Justin Spring, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in gymnastics and head coach at the University of Illinois.
“I wouldn’t think twice about going either,” Spring said. The mindset of an athlete is, “what I’ve invested is far too great to give up.”
Of course, not all athletes pin their hopes on the Olympics. Golf and tennis, for instance, have many premier tournaments each year for the sports’ elite. But for most competitors the Olympics are a world stage like no other.
Athletes train 40 hours a week for years to reach the Olympics and spend even more time thinking about getting there. “Everything about your life converges on being the best for this thing,” Spring said.
Security is usually the top concern at the Olympics. When I covered the 2004 Olympics in Greece, the newspaper I worked for gave us gas masks in case of bioterrorism.
The Games went off without a hitch. Most of the time, that’s the case. But in 1996 a bombing at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta resulted in two deaths and injuries to more than 100. In 1972 terrorists took 11 Israeli athletes hostage and killed them and a German police officer during the Munich Games.
The games went on.
“To have canceled them would have been a victory for the terrorists,” Olympic historian David Wallechinsky said by email of Munich.
We can’t give in to fear, and it holds true for Zika. It’s winter now in Brazil and the cooler temperatures, combined with manpower working to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds, is helping. Reuters reported this week that cases of Zika are down about 90 percent from a peak of 16,000 cases one week in February.
This summer we should be more worried about Zika in the U.S. The CDC for months has warned that Puerto Rico is on the front lines against mosquitoes carrying the disease.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be at the Olympics, against the small probability of contracting Zika, is a chance I would take.
Follow Marlen Garcia on Twitter: Follow @MarlenGarcia777