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Tuesday, February 09, 2016
A Dream Better Deferred

Sports and Bioethics have converged once again. In August, a half million tourists, journalists and athletes from literally all over the world are scheduled to travel to Brazil for the Summer Games. The problem is Brazil is Ground Zero for the Zika Outbreak, which the World Health Organization has called “a public health emergency.”

The Zika virus gets its name from the Zika Forest in Uganda where a certain species of mosquito thrives. One can contract the virus not only by being bit by the Aedes mosquitos but through sexual contact and perhaps through saliva and sweat.

What makes the virus so insidious is that most people who contract it may not even know they are infected because the symptoms are so slight. But for those who are pregnant, the virus may cause their babies to be born with abnormally small heads and serious vision problems. They and their parents will face a lifetime of struggle and heartache.

Many, including me, believe it is irresponsible to hold the Olympics under these circumstances.

While tourists can choose whether to accept the risks of exposure and call off the visit, the athletes and sports journalists really have little choice in the matter. Hope Solo, sure to be the goaltender for the U.S. women’s Soccer team, is troubled by having to decide between a lifelong dream and her health. “If I had to make the choice today,” she said recently, “I wouldn’t go.” Pointedly, she added, “No athlete . . should be faced with this dilemma. Female professional athletes already face many different considerations and have to make choices that male professionals don’t.”

And to think that those exposed, with little awareness of what they are carrying, would then travel back to virtually every country on earth is a nightmare scenario. Can you imagine holding the Olympics in Guinea two years ago during the Ebola Outbreak?

Those who will suffer from the decision to hold the Olympics in August will be the as yet unborn. And if even one child can be spared a life of disability by waiting a year for the games to begin, the costs of the delay will be well worth it.

The Olympics are designed to be a showcase of human potential. But it should demonstrate our reasoning skills and compassion not just our physical prowess.


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