■ Down Town hotel to the rescue for Bolt
By JOE APU
In getting set for their final journey to Brazil, Team USA got cracking with undercover agents from the CIA, FBI and more or less prepared for war in Rio.
They were more than determined to conquer the enemy and deployed all their manpower and technology to it or how else would one have described their decision to take cover inside a cruise liner during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The decision was solely intended to defeat the dreaded Zika virus, a disease that had seen some of her key athletes withdrawing from the Games.
Indeed, the Zika virus had struck fear in millions of people the world over, who were heading for the Olympic Games. The fear factor was heightened by several calls for the Rio Games to be postponed.
In fact, by January 2016, the Olympics was said to be on the verge of disaster as fear grew over the Zika virus, which had left more than 4,000 newborns with shrunken heads.
It was no wonder then that the Team USA took the initiative by thinking out a solution ahead of the Games by booking for a cruise liner named Silver Cloud for her athletes.
The USA star-studded basketball teams took up accommodation on the cruise liner off Rio de Janeiro, as concerns lingered over the accommodation at the Olympic Village.
Boasting high-class amenities and attractions, the Silver Cloud was reserved for the US delegation at the Olympics and the men’s and women’s basketball teams were allotted some of the 196 cabins on board, the general directorate of the Maua port terminal said.
Facilities on board the Silver Cloud included three restaurants for dinning – The Restaurant, La Terrazza Italian restaurant, Le Champagne wine restaurant six bars/cafes including Pool bar, Pool grill, The Bar, Connoisseur’s Corner cigar bar. It also boasts of health and fitness with 2 jacuzzis, gym, spa, beauty salon, sauna and jogging track. For entertainment, the show lounge comprises a Casino, Panorama observation lounge, library, internet café and card room/conference room as well as shops, launderette and medical centre.
While thousands of tourists visited the revitalised port to watch the action from the Games on giant screens, heavy security prevented them from getting close to the cruise ship.
A bulletproof fence surrounded the area around the vessel, while the athletes were guarded by around 250 police officers, according to AAP report.
“The Federal Police also had two boats … that they used to prevent navigation near the vessel,” Alexandre Gomes, Maua port terminal operations director, said.
Despite the difference in standards of accommodation, members of Australia’s men’s basketball team denied they were jealous of their US counterparts, joking that they were happy to “cuddle” in the cramped conditions of the Olympic Village.
But players dismissed suggestions the Australian team would have loved to trade places with the US team of NBA stars.
While the Argentines complained about weak water pressure in the bathrooms and Brazilian handballer, Jose Toledo said the laundry service was less than perfect, Team USA athletes had no such concerns.
However unlike the Team USA, the Jamaican team with the world’s most famous athlete, Usain Bolt, arrived Rio for the Olympic Games but chose a surprisingly low-key start.
The Jamaican champion, 30, stayed with the rest of his country’s athletes at the three-star, $136-a-night Linx Hotel near Rio’s international airport.
The Zika fear was such that female spectators and even athletes of childbearing age were warned by countries and medical professionals around the world to reconsider their plans to travel to Brazil for fear of what could happen to their unborn children after the country was overrun by the mosquito-borne disease.
Russia and Australian officials had both raised fears for those women preparing to compete at the Games, while numerous airlines around the world were offering pregnant women the chance to swap or refund their tickets to avoid travelling to affected areas – of which Brazil, according to findings, was the worst hit.
By the month of May, the campaign shifted to calls for a postponement of the Games. The big question was: should the Olympics proceed in Rio de Janeiro in August as planned? Given the fact that the lighting of the torch was set to take place in less than three months, a handful of medical experts were calling for the Games to be postponed or moved, citing the risk of globalising a Zika epidemic that’s been mostly limited to the Americas.
Amir Attaran, a professor of law and medicine at the University of Ottawa had argued in the Harvard Public Health Review that the Games “must not proceed.”
Among pregnant women, Zika can trigger severe birth defects that include microcephaly, a condition where babies are born with abnormally small heads. It has also been linked to neurological disorders, including Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Attaran suggested that by August, the epidemic in Rio would be worse than currently predicted.
“It cannot possibly help to send a half-million travelers into Rio from places that would not normally have strong travel connections with Rio and therefore set up new dissemination channels,” Attaran had said in an interview. He echoed Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, who in February suggested postponing the games by from six to 12 months.
As if that was not enough, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) cited Attaran’s commentary in a May 17 letter urging the World Health Organization (PDF) to evaluate the risks of holding the Olympics this year. “All of the efforts underway to prevent Zika are at risk of being undone if the Olympic Games spurs a global outbreak,” she wrote.
For Brazil, however, the postponement or cancellation of the Olympics might further destabilize the troubled nation. The country was in its deepest recession on record and consumed by a political crisis with the impeachment trial of former President Dilma Rousseff, which was ongoing at the time. Brazil had spent almost $10 billion to host the first Olympic Games in South America, money it could not afford to waste. This was especially the case because it was unlikely that insurers would make anyone associated with the Games whole over Zika-induced cancellation claims.
All that notwithstanding, the organisers were keen to stress that the 2016 Games would go ahead – because they remained convinced Brazil would get the outbreak under control by the time the Games began.
Indeed, the country threw everything it had at combating the problem. Ahead of the carnival, more than 3,000 municipal health agents were sent out on the city’s streets, trying desperately to rid the city of its mosquito hotbeds.
In the over 100 years of the modern Olympics which began in 1896, never had there been so much fear for the Games not holding but the International Olympic Committee, IOC, went ahead and that no case of the virus was reported during the Games only proved that the World Health Organisation was convinced that there was no risk after all. Like many who were in Rio, the fear factor that the Zika virus was just a creation of some political minds.
Against all odds, the Games held without a single case recorded but not without some countries taking necessary precautions.
British Olympian, Rutherford freezes sperm over Olympics Zika fears
The British Olympian, Greg Rutherford froze a sample of his sperm before attending the Olympic Games in Rio because of his concerns over the Zika virus.
Rutherford’s partner, Susie Verrill said the couple, who have a son named Milo, decided to freeze his sperm because they wanted to have more children in the future and were worried about the risks of the disease. Zika infections in pregnant women had been linked to babies being born with microcephaly, or an unusually small skull, and other severe brain defects.
Verrill revealed in an article for Standard Issue that she and Milo would not travel to Brazil to watch Rutherford, who won gold in the long jump at the London 2012 Games.
“The Zika news has caused no end of concern if we’re totally honest,” she wrote. “We’re not ones to worry unnecessarily but after more than 100 medical experts stressed the Games should be moved to prevent the disease from spreading, this was a huge factor in us choosing to stay put.
“We’ve also made the decision to have Greg’s sperm frozen. We’d love to have more children and with research in its infancy, I wouldn’t want to put myself in a situation which could have been prevented.
“Specialists still don’t know the ins and outs of Zika, so even though it looks as though there’s no real issue should Milo get bitten, it’s just another thing we don’t want to chance.”
Verrill said other reasons for remaining at home included the cost of flights and the lack of time she would spend with Rutherford because he would be “holed up in the athletes’ village from day one until he leaves and two weeks prior to actually competing in Rio he’ll be staying in a holding camp.”
Verrill’s article came days after the US cyclist Tejay Van Garderen pulled out of the Games over fears for his pregnant wife. The Fijian, Vijay Singh and Australian, Marc Leishman, also withdrew from the golf event.
“The fire is already burning but that is not a rationale not to do anything about the Olympics,” said one signatory, the University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran who wrote about his concerns in an article for the Harvard Public Health Review. “It is not the time now to throw more gasoline on to the fire.”
But the World Health Organisation resisted calls for such action, and Brazil’s sports minister, Leonardo Picciani, predicted there would be virtually no new cases of Zika during the Olympics.
Picciani, who recently became the third person to fill the role in three months, said: “We hosted 43 test events in Rio with 7,000 athletes and we have not had any case of Zika or dengue [fever]. We had a very significant reduction. We had 4,300 cases in April, which fell to 700 in May and there will be another significant reduction in June or July, and in August it will be very close to zero.
“All the mechanisms of prevention and protection are guaranteed. I would say to any athlete, to any visitor planning on coming to Rio, you do not have to worry, Rio and Brazil have prepared for this moment.”
‘Zika-proof’ condoms to the rescue for Australia
The Australian Olympic team was given a new way to fight off the Zika virus: a condom said to be “Zika-proof,” though the manufacturer’s website stated that it had not applied for or received regulatory approval for its claim.
Brazil was the epicentre of the latest outbreak of the Zika virus, which was linked to an alarming rise in birth defects and other neurological and nervous system disorders.
Australian pharmaceutical company, Starpharma Holdings Limited and marketing company, Ansell Limited, had announced that the Australian team would be given Ansell’s ‘Dual Protect’ condoms lubricated with Starpharma’s VivaGel lubricant, an antiviral agent the company claimed could protect against bad vaginal bacteria, some STDs and, now, Zika.
The virus is primarily transmitted by infected mosquitoes, but is also sexually transmitted.
In an early May news release, the company said VivaGel had shown “potent antiviral activity against the Zika virus in laboratory studies.” The studies reportedly showed “near complete antiviral protection” at concentrations “significantly below that used in the VivaGel condom.”
“Given that sexual transmission of Zika virus is of increasing importance,” Starpharma’s chief executive officer, Dr. Jackie Fairley, said in an online statement, “Starpharma is delighted to play a role in supporting Australian athletes as they compete on the world-stage at the Olympic Games in Rio.”
In the same statement, Australian Olympic Team Chief de Mission, Kitty Chiller said, “The health and wellbeing of the Team comes first. Our association with Starpharma will provide extra protection for everyone on the Team, and is a common sense approach to a very serious problem we are facing in Rio.”