On Aug. 5, athletes from around the world will travel to Rio to take part in the Summer Olympics, but not as many as in years past.
In 2009, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) met in Copenhagen, Denmark, and awarded Rio De Janeiro the rights to host both the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games.
About six years after the IOC awarded the rights to Rio, Zika became an epidemic in Brazil.
It’s estimated that about 11,000 athletes from around the world will compete, and about 600,000 people will cheer on their respective countries. With that many spectators — not including the TV viewers — there’s a large amount of pride that goes with the title “Olympic athlete.”
The Zika virus is spread mostly by mosquitos. People can also get Zika through sex with someone infected, and the virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. In the U.S., the chance of getting the Zika virus is slim, with less than 1,000 cases per year.
With all the potential health issues that come with the Zika virus, it seems the bigger headlines surfacing in the months leading up to the games are not about the athletes who were chosen, but rather the athletes who turned down the offer, “respectfully,” to use their own words.
What was once an honor and a privilege has now been transformed into a choice, which frankly, many athletes have downplayed.
In another development, the Russian track and field athletes were banned, due to their lack of cooperation with a doping investigation, which has yet to settle down.
At the start of June, with the NBA Finals narrowing down, Golden State’s Steph Curry withdrew from consideration for a roster spot on USA Basketball.
The back-to-back NBA MVP wasn’t the only star from the states to say “no thanks” to the Olympics.
Along with Curry, Los Angeles’ Chris Paul and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook also decided against the idea.
USA Basketball isn’t known as a struggling team, either. The Red, White, and Blue is the two-time defending champ entering this year’s Olympics.
With some stars out, though, others have showed their commitment to the games, and for that matter, their country.
The Associated Press released an article, Thursday, saying that one of their sources can confirm Carmelo Anthony, of the New York Knicks, will keep his commitment.
Anthony told the AP in a past interview that he’s been playing with USA Basketball since he was 16.
“[I] can’t stop now,” he said.
The official roster for the USA Basketball team will be released Monday, and there’s a solid chance that NBA Champion Kyrie Irving will be on that team, although he hasn’t solidified the deal yet.
Irving’s teammate, LeBron James, was expected to jump on board with USA Basketball. But like many athletes this season, he has turned the offer down.
ESPN said Thursday, according to Cleveland.com, that James has informed the team that he will not play, saying “I need the rest.”
Basketball athletes aren’t the only ones who would rather not compete in the Olympics, either because of Zika or other reasons. Many, many others have opted out.
Along with the stories surfacing about the athletes dropping the opportunity, there have also been articles released about Zika, and how it shouldn’t be a worry for most athletes. But, it seems those articles haven’t had the effect the IOC might have liked.
Wednesday, Rory McIlroy decided to sit this year’s Olympics out. With that decision, McIlroy joins the list of other golf pros who have been scared away by Zika. Adam Scott, Vijay Singh and Marc Leishman have also withdrew from the honor.
Tennis player Mike Bryan, who won a gold medal with his brother, Bob Bryan, in the 2012 London Olympics, couldn’t think about missing it.
“It’s playing for your country. It’s playing for the glory of the Olympics,” Bryan told the AP. “I’m a little surprised there are some big names skipping it.”
In an interview with BBC, Jonathan Ball, who is a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said, “The chances of being infected by Zika virus is low, especially if you protect yourself from mosquito bites by covering up and using a good insect repellent.”
He also added that athletes who decide to withdraw are making an extreme decision.
It isn’t entirely clear whether athletes have other concerns for withdrawing, and just use the Zika virus as an excuse. But one thing seems crystal-clear, the IOC either needs to start looking deeper into the health aspect of awarded locations, or the committee needs to find a new way to bring back the Olympic standard.
Lohr is the sports editor of The Herald. He can be reached at 827-3634, or via email, at email@example.com