Rio 2016 Olympics Lose More Marquee Names on Continued Zika Fears

Posted on: June 27, 2016, 01:24h. 

Last updated on: June 27, 2016, 01:24h.

Rio 2016 Olympics Zika virus
The Rio 2016 Olympics will be without several marquee athletes when the games commence in early August as Zika continues to run rampant throughout the city. (Image: Getty Images)

The Rio 2016 Olympics commence on August 5, but a multitude of sports superstars aren’t packing their bags. The primary reason so many professional athletes are skipping the Summer Games is the ongoing concerns over the Zika virus.

A mosquito-borne virus that can be spread through mosquito bites or through sex with an infected man, Zika presents substantial risks to pregnant women. An infected prenatal woman can transmit Zika to her fetus, which can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly.

Zika more commonly presents only a mild fever, rash, joint pain, and eye redness, and rarely sends people to the hospital. Regardless, a slew of top-name athletes have decided to skip Rio 2016 due to the virus.

NBA superstars LeBron James and Stephen Curry, and golf’s world #4 Rory McIlroy, headline the roster of no-shows. James and Curry didn’t specifically cite Zika for their absenteeism, but McIlroy did.

“After much thought and deliberation, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for this summer’s Olympic Games,” the recently engaged McIlroy said. “After speaking with those closest to me, I’ve come to realize that my health and my family’s health comes before anything else.”

Top American cyclist Tejay van Garderen and NBC host Savannah Guthrie are also both skipping the games due to Zika. And US soccer stars Hope Solo and Alex Morgan have voiced their concerns, with Solo saying she won’t be leaving the hotel room except for matches.

Golf’s Rocky Reintroduction

It’s been 112 years since golf was last included in the Olympics. Multiple players including Tiger Woods expressed their enthusiasm when the International Olympic Committee voted in 2009 to return the sport for the 2016 games.

Fast-forward seven years and today the game’s icons are foregoing the trip to Brazil. Along with McIlroy, Aussie Jason Day, the number one golfer in the world, is reportedly considering dropping out of the Olympics.

US star Jordan Spieth, currently ranked #2, is also on the fence.

“It will be a spectacular event just because it’s the Olympics,” Woods said last week at his event in Washington, DC. “I just wish they would have had more quality in the field . . . I think the Olympics deserve that.”

Fans Skipping Too

The Rio 2016 Olympics are shaping up to be a blueprint of how not to host the world’s biggest sporting event. In addition to Zika, the country is in political turmoil with Brazil’s lower house voting to impeach President Dilma Rousseff in April.

Brazil’s economy has crashed, the local waters are filled with pollution, and the city is scrambling to finish a new subway line critical to connecting fans to Olympic Park.

Officials say they still have over 1.8 million tickets to sell. And while original estimates predicted 200,000 Americans would travel south for the Summer Games, that number is now more likely to come in around 100,000.

The Brazilian government is standing firm on its longtime forecast that the games will bring in between 350,000 and 500,000 tourists during the 16-day spectacle.

“There is a joke that God is Brazilian, but he’s going through an Old Testament phase,” Rio de Janeiro State University Professor Maurício Santoro told USA TODAY. “Here’s the Zika. Here’s the corruption. Here’s the recession. The only thing that hasn’t happened are the locusts.”