Kenya unsure of Olympic participation over Zika virus

Kenya is monitoring health threats posed by the Zika virus ahead of the Olympic Games and it is too early to decide on its impact, Kenya’s Olympic committee said on Tuesday, playing down comments that had suggested it could pull athletes out.

Kenya’s sports Minister, Hassan Wario said on Tuesday the country has not yet decided whether to take part in Rio Olympics after meeting with health officials.

National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) head, Kipchoge Keino had said earlier that Kenya would not “risk taking Kenyans there if this Zika virus reaches epidemic levels”, and that he was seeking reassurance from organizers.

NOCK said Keino “may have been quoted out of context”.

“It is too early to make a determination on the status of the virus during the games time which is six months away,” said NOCK’s chief of mission for Rio, Stephen Soi, adding Kenya was receiving regular updates on the virus.

Meanwhile, Leading male golfers say they will not allow fears about the Zika virus keep them away from Brazil when their sport returns to the Olympics after an absence of more than a century.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has told U.S. sports federations that athletes and staff worried for their health should consider not going to the Games.

But golfers said they are unperturbed by the situation, joining other sports personalities who have said they are still keen to go.

Golfers spend most of their time on the road competing in events across the globe, often in countries where they have to contend with a myriad of challenges off the course.

Though the World Health Organization last week declared Zika an international health emergency that could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas, symptoms are typically mild.

“We’ve traveled all over the world playing golf,” American world number 14 Brandt Snedeker said at last week’s PGA Tour event, the Phoenix Open.

“We’re used to being in different climates and different areas with many different concerns, not just the Zika virus or whatever it might be, so we realize the dangers when we do travel”.

Snedeker, who is one of 10 U.S. players vying for four spots at the Games, expressed confidence in local and international health authorities taking every precaution.

Fellow American Brooks Koepka, the world number 19, said he was not really concerned by the Zika virus.

“You’ve just got to be careful, that’s all,” said Koepka, who clinched his first PGA Tour title at the 2015 Phoenix Open.

“I’ve been to a bunch of places where you’ve got to take medications and things like that just to kind of survive.”

For Argentine world number 34 Emiliano Grillo, who is assured of a place in Rio, the Zika virus gave him a sense of deja vu.

“Where I’m from, we’ve got another mosquito virus (Dengue fever) which is pretty similar,” Grillo said.

“Everybody is making a deal about the Zika virus just because it’s something new. The same thing happened when Dengue fever popped up in Buenos Aires for a couple of months and everybody made a huge deal about it. I am not scared of it.”

Pre-Olympic trials are scheduled in Rio before August and the International Olympic Committee says the Games will take place during the winter months when a drier, cooler climate reduces the presence of mosquitoes and the risk of infection.

The IOC says there have been no discussions about cancelling or postponing the Games, although some medical experts they should be.


Reuters/Aisha JM