With just over 5 months remaining for sports’ biggest global event, there are reverberations in certain quarters about the health safety of athletes coming to Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics. August 5 is not so far away, but the outcry for the summary cancellation of the 2016 Games is gathering momentum because of the mosquito-carried Zika virus. Usually, it should have been an ideal time to start the countdown for the 2016 Games at Rio, where a record 206 countries and National Olympic Committees will compete for 306 sets of medals in 28 sports. Forbes magazine’s Arthur Caplan and Lee Igel published an article on February 3, as per which it will be an act of irresponsibility to go ahead with the Games. They have pointed out that young women in Brazil cannot travel safely, water pollution and security will make it tough for the visitors and above all, mosquito-borne Zika virus could break into epidemic proportions by the time the Games get underway. However, Brazilian authorities have strongly refuted these allegations saying that such speculations are only half-truths. Brazil’s Sports Minister George Hilton has said that such topics are out of the subject of discussion at the moment. Hilton added that Brazil is proud of hosting the global event and his country’s government is fully committed to ensuring that the 2016 Games successfully take place in an atmosphere of security and tranquility.

Forbes magazine’s February 3 bombshell that Brazil is the epicenter of an outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, has taken the world community by a storm. While the World Health Organization has dubbed the outbreak of Zika as an extraordinary event and public health threat, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach felt confident that the Games will go on as scheduled. In addition, Rio organizers have repeatedly asserted that there was no question of calling off the games. The whole controversy arose because in their recent communication, WHO have advised pregnant women not to travel to Zika areas. That was WHO’s general guideline covering several countries. Rio Organizers feel that Forbes authors Caplan and Igel picked up that WHO notification and created a doomsday scenario for travelers to Brazil in August this year.  Sports minister Hilton said that these speculators have no idea that Brazilian weather in South American winter generally reduces the mosquito count and that would eliminate the Zika threat.

2016 Rio GamesThe news about Zika spread like wildfire even as people had begun dreaming about the magical Opening Ceremonies. The enthusiasm about watching gymnastics superheroes and track-and-field stars also got diminished. Rio de Janeiro earned the honor of hosting the Games in 2009 with a promise of building new venues and implementing a modern sanitation system that would clean up sewage in waters. However, in seven years since then, Brazilian economy has taken nose-dive and mounting criticism about the nations’s ability to make the Games a spectacular success has suddenly come to a question. The water pollution problem could not be solved, key venues are yet to be completed and with Zika virus staring Brazil in the face, the overall situation has become very embarrassing. It is, therefore legitimate to question whether Rio is prepared to host more than 10,500 athletes on its soil for the world’s most prestigious sporting event in 5 months’ time.

Part of Rio’s proposal to host the Olympics was a vow to clean up 80 percent sewage in its waters and complete regeneration of Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, which would host the sprint canoe/kayak and rowing events. However, that has not happened because of lack of funds and governmental focus. The best that the organizers could do was to install barriers across Rio’s more than a dozen dying rivers to hold back garbage that could drift into the paths of Olympic sailors.

But the Zika virus threat is the worst of all for athletes, spectators and international visitors. Studies are still underway on a disease that affects women more than men. There is no vaccine for the virus and organizers’ only hope is the onset of winter that could reduce the mosquito population. Scenarios are scary but sports enthusiasts are hoping for the best. No one wants to miss the sporting extravaganza that takes four years to repeat itself.