Zika virus: Kenya Olympic chief raises pull-out possibility

NAIROBI. — Kenya’s Olympic chief has raised the possibility of pulling out of the Rio Olympics this summer if the outbreak of the Zika virus worsens in Brazil, reports said yesterday.

Kipchoge Keino, the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) chairman, said the East African nation may consider pulling out of the competition should the disease reach epidemic levels.

“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,” Keino said, according to Kenya’s Standard newspaper.

“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.”

Kenya is famed for its athletes and marathon runners, topping the medal table in last year’s world athletics championships in Beijing, taking seven golds, six silvers and three bronze medals.

The Zika outbreak, a largely mosquito-borne virus believed to be linked to severe birth defects, has sparked fears of infections in Brazil, which will host the Olympics between August 5-23.

However, Zika was first discovered in East Africa, in Kenya’s neighbour Uganda.

Jackson Tuwei, the Athletics Kenya President, said they would first seek the advice of the health authorities and the government before making a decision.

“We will have intense consultations with the government and all other stakeholders. I think by August we will have a solution,” Tuwei said, according to the Standard.

Meanwhile, the United States Olympic Committee has refuted an “inaccurate” report that it had advised American athletes to reconsider competing in the Rio Games because of Zika virus fears.

“The reports that the USOC has advised US athletes to reconsider competing in Rio due to the Zika virus are 100 percent inaccurate,” USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said in a statement.

“Team USA looks forward to the Games and we did not, would not and will not prevent athletes from competing for their country should they qualify.”

Sandusky said the USOC had held internal discussions with American sports leaders about the potential risks that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had identified with travel to Zika-infested areas.

The primarily mosquito-borne illness has surged through Latin America. — AFP.

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