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.
Wesley Korir, the 2012 Boston Marathon winner and MP for Cherangany, said he had little information about the scourge.
“I have little knowledge about it. I have just read about it in newspapers but I suggest that we take time to assess the situation in South America. The Government must come up and give athletes a clear direction on this.
“We need to understand the risks and evaluate them. I also think the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should carry out an assessment on the dangers of Zika virus. They should not risk the lives of thousands of athletes,” said Korir.
He said IOC, the Olympic Games umbrella, can even postpone the sporting bonanza or cancel it if the Zika virus threat persists.
Rio organisers have been scouring Olympics venues daily for two weeks, looking for stagnant water where mosquitoes breed.
Rio spokesman Mario Andrada said the inspections would continue daily until the games open on August 5.
“That will be in Brazil’s winter when it’s cooler, drier and the mosquito population is smaller,” the Daily Mail reported.
Noah Ng’eny, the 2000 Olympics 1,500m champion and Athletics Kenya Athletes’ Representative, admitted that most athletes are not aware of Zika virus.
“We need to understand first its dangers and seek consultations widely. We know very little about Zika virus,” said Ng’eny.
Mercy Cherono, the Commonwealth Games 5,000m champion, said she knows little about Zika virus but she is optimistic a solution on the pandemic will have been found before the Olympics.
“That’s a global issue and I hope a solution will be found. I hope to be in Rio for the games,” said Cherono.
And Moses Tanui, the two-time Boston Marathon winner, concurred with her.