OPINION: Zika virus threatens female athletes

India Kirssin | Staff Writer


The Zika virus is forcing Olympic athletes to decide between greatness now or a future family.

The media has turned the recent Zika outbreak into a panic reminiscent of the Ebola scare of 2014. While the virus is relatively harmless if caught in its early stages, it has been linked to a rise in birth defects in countries like Brazil, where the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held.

In recent weeks, athletes and Olympic committees from different countries have expressed concerns for female stars attending the Olympics. Many of the women are afraid that contracting the virus could put their future pregnancies and children at risk. If I were in their position, I would be afraid too. The thought of risking not only your health, but possibly the health of a child, is terrifying and should be taken very seriously.

While it hasn’t been proven that the virus directly causes any birth defects, its appearance in Brazil has been linked to a rise in microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an abnormally small head. This can lead to seizures and impaired brain development, among other complications.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has begun advising pregnant women or those considering becoming pregnant to avoid traveling to places with Zika. The U.S. Olympic Committee told athletes concerned over their health to consider skipping the games. The Australian Olympic Council has also advised those who are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant to carefully consider whether they should take the risk.

At the beginning of February, U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) goalie Hope Solo said she is concerned about attending the games and would choose not to go if she had to make the choice right now. In an interview for SI.com, Solo said, “Competing in the Olympics should be a safe environment for every athlete, male and female alike. Female athletes should not be forced to make a decision that could sacrifice the health of a child.”

Solo has been known for her controversial comments and actions in the past, including a domestic abuse arrest and USWNT drunk driving incident this past year, but I have to say I completely agree with her. When many, many experts and professionals have expressed concerns about the risks for female athletes, it’s impossible to ignore. The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly said that it is confident the problem will be solved, but with the virus stemming from millions of mosquitoes and the Olympics only four months away, I can’t see how they can guarantee safety for all of the athletes attending.

If women begin to drop out of the games as the summer approaches, I’m sure there will be a public outcry accusing them of not representing their country to the best of their abilities. I hope no one would even think of accusing these women of something so ridiculous, and I hope female athletes make the decision based on their future and health, not the public pressure surrounding them. They have every right to protect their bodies and future families.