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Kenya could skip Rio Olympics over Zika virus risk, says top official

By Jonathan Komen
Updated Tue, February 9th 2016 at 00:00 GMT +3
Ezekiel Kemboi

Kenya could skip the upcoming Rio Olympics should Zika virus be declared serious, athletics official Kipchoge Keino has said.

With six months to the Olympic Games in Rio de Jenairo, Brazil, anxiety is growing over the risks of the rapidly spreading virus.

There are fears the much-expected sunbathing on the famed Copacabana beach for athletes at the Olympic Games will be no more.

And even world’s sporting nations like US are considering pulling out of the competition at the Olympic Games should the Zika virus threat persist.

 Dr Keino, the National Olympic Committee of Kenya chairman, said the threat posed by the Zika virus scourge needs wide consultations.

“We will wait until the last minute. We are relying on advice from health organisations in Rio, Brazil, to enable us make an informed decision. If the Zika virus is serious, then we will not attend the games. We will not expose our youths. The health of our people is more important than the games.

“But if the Zika virus is not so dangerous, we will go for the games,” said Keino, the 1968 Olympic Games 1,500m champion.

Sports stakeholders now want to engage the Government on the threat even as various sports disciplines seek qualification for Rio Olympics.

General (rtd) Jackson Tuwei, the Athletics Kenya President, said they have not discussed the issue but will wait to be advised accordingly by medical experts and the Government.

“We will have intense consultations with the Government and all other stakeholders. I think by August we will have a solution,” said Gen Tuwei.

Most Kenyan athletes, who are already in camp preparing to compete for slots to the Olympic Games, however, remain unaware of the Zika virus.

Four-time world 3,000m steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi, who is the International Associations of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Athletes’ Representative, said he has never heard of the virus or even read about it. “Honestly, I don’t know about it unless I do my research,” Kemboi said yesterday.

United Kingdom’s leading newspaper, the Daily Mail, reported that Brazil is the epicentre of the rapidly spreading virus, linked to rare birth defect and competitors want to leave nothing to chance.

The eagerly anticipated Olympics will take place from August 5 to 23, the Daily Mail reported, and at a test event in the city’s new Olympic Park, there was anxiety in the air.

USA has given its athletes the option to compete at the Olympics in the Samba nation.

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