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Kenya to decide if to send athletes to Olympics amid Zika fears

Photo: EPA/Marecelo Sayao)

Photo: EPA/Marecelo Sayao)

NAIROBI, Kenya, February 9 – A crucial meeting between the Ministries of Sports and Health will determine whether Kenya will send a team to the 2016 Olympics Games slated for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August because of because of Zika virus fears.

Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Arts and Culture Dr Hassan Wario who announced the development when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Labour and Social Welfare, said the inter-ministerial meeting has been called to gauge the threat of the deadly Zika disease which has been reported in Brazil.

“We have already written to the Ministry of Health to convene a meeting between the two of us. Obviously our priority will be the health of our team. There is a lot of worry about Zika. We will take counsel from the health expert s and we will make the most appropriate decision,” Wario told the Senate Committee on Tuesday.

The National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) through Chef de Mission for Team Kenya, Stephen arap Soi dismissed reports that the institution had announced it will not send a team for the Summer Games.

“The National Olympic Committee of Kenya has not made any decision specifically on the issue of Zika virus as of today and can only conclude by stating that the NOCK president, Kipchoge Keino may have been quoted out of context.

“Kenya is receiving games preparation updates on regular basis including medical related issues, Zika virus being amongst them. It is too early to make a determination on the status of the virus during the games time which is six months away,” Soi who is the NOCK Deputy Secretary General, stated in a statement.

Soi believes the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee is on top of things addressing the scare and sharing their cause of action with the relevant stake holders.

This comes after the United States Olympic Committee told the US Sports Federations that they are concerned about the health of their athletes and staff.

Kenya is expected to send over 200 athletes and officials in various sports disciplines with a huge contingent coming from athletics.

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), at least 26 countries have already been affected by Zika.

In most people, it causes mild symptoms, but it has been linked to a rapid rise in the number of children born with abnormally small heads and brains.

Brazil, where the Rio Games begin in August, is the hardest-hit country to date, and has warned pregnant women not to travel there.

However, games organizers said this month that by the time the Olympics start on August 5, the main mosquito season will be over and they don’t expect the illness to affect the sporting extravaganza.

Brazilian sports minister George Hilton reiterated that position on Monday in remarks to the newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo, saying his government is contacting sports federations to clarify that the mosquito population will be reduced in Rio in August.

“Zika is a public health problem worldwide, but precisely because of the climate characteristics, is not an Olympic issue,” Hilton said.