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Sports and Rio: Three Controversies Associated With the 2016 Olympic Games

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Rio de Janeiro Olympics

The start of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics is quickly approaching. Despite being one of the biggest multi-day events in the sports world for 2016, the games have not been without their fair share of controversy, some of it health related and some related to other issues. Here is a look at just three of the biggest controversies concerning the games.

Zika Virus

On May 27, prominent physicians, scientists, and bioethicists across the world signed a letter urging the World Health Organization to encourage Olympic officials to postpone or move the Olympic games because of health concerns associated with the Zika virus.  The 150 people who signed the letter come from a variety of countries, including the United States, Japan, Brazil, Canada, Sweden, and Russia.

The authors of the letter argue for the change because they say that the medical consequences of the virus, which is spread by mosquitoes and through sexual contact, are worse than originally thought. Unfortunately, Rio de Janeiro is one of the hardest-hit areas when it comes to the Zika virus. Those who signed the letter argue having the Olympics in Brazil may lead to visitors to the games contracting the virus and bringing it to their home countries, causing an epidemic.

Although the Olympics have never been moved because of health concerns, moving an international sporting event because of health issues has happened before. In 2003, the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament was moved from China to the United States because of the SARS outbreak.

Still, there are those who argue that canceling or postponing the games is not the solution. They say the games only account for a small amount of the travel to countries affected by the virus. Instead, they advise pregnant women to avoid traveling to Brazil or other areas affected by the virus and for those people who plan to go to the Olympic games to just take extra precautions.

Contaminated Water

Even before the Zika virus became a health scare in Brazil and some surrounding countries, some were concerned about the health of the athletes participating in some of the water sports. Last August, some athletes competing in the World Junior Rowing Championship in Rio de Janeiro came down with stomach illnesses. The U.S. team was the hardest hit, with thirteen of the forty competitors having problems such as vomiting and diarrhea. The U.S. team doctor thinks the illnesses are due to pollution in the lake where the rowing events took place. Other officials, though, argue that the sicknesses could have been caused by bad food or issues related to travel. More recently, some surfers got sick during Brazil’s May Oi Rio Pro, a top surfing competition, which was held in the same area where the Olympics will be held in only a short time.

It is worth noting, an Associated Press analysis of the water found there was not one safe location for any of the Olympic swimming or boating events. According to the study, athletes who drink (even unintentionally) just a small amount of the contaminated water have a 99 percent chance of being infected with a virus. For some athletes, their body’s natural health defense system will prevent them from getting sick, even after they are infected with a virus, but other athletes may get sick.

Potential Boycott

While some athletes are considering skipping the Olympic games because of health concerns, the US Women’s National Soccer Team might skip the games for another reason. Despite winning Olympic gold in four out of five of the Olympics where women’s soccer was included (and silver in 2000), as well as winning three World Cups, most recently in 2015, the U.S. women’s soccer team continues to get paid less than their male counterparts. Members of the women’s team, which brings in more revenue than the men’s team, have said they might go on strike, which could include boycotting the Olympics if they do not receive equal pay. Since the US women’s soccer team is often considered the top women’s team in the world, an Olympics without them could be highly disappointing to soccer fans across the world.

The effect these three controversies will have on the actual Olympic games is yet to be seen. Maybe the pre-Olympics controversies will be far bigger than the problems associated with the games, or perhaps the controversies are simply glimpses of the problems that will come along with the games.

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