Tennis stars remain committed to Rio despite Zika fears

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  • Committed for now: Tennis stars Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Roger Federer.

    As many golfers have been pulling out of the Rio Olympics in the past few days, citing the Zika virus as the reason behind their decision, tennis players remain committed to the quadrennial Games.

    According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the mosquito-borne virus has been linked to microcephaly in newborn babies and Guillain-Barré syndrome – a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis – in adults.

    Golfers Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, winner Vijay Singh, Marc Leishman, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel have all withdrawn from the Olympics out of fears of getting infected by the virus.

    The WHO has said that men can pass on the virus to their female partners which would put them at risk in their future pregnancies. It remains unclear how much time the virus can remain in one’s system but reports on the matter range from saying it can be from eight weeks up to two years.

    Most tennis players have surprisingly done little to no research on the matter and have said they plan on going to Rio this August for the Olympics.

    “I have never reconsidered my decision. I know I will play. I will try everything I possibly can to be there,” Roger Federer told reporters at Wimbledon when asked about the Olympics and the implications of the Zika virus.

    “I’ll put mosquito spray on my body, I’ll do that. I’ll take the precautions I have to. That’s it really.”

    While the Swiss is aware of some of the dangers of the virus, he has not read much on the subject himself, and is relying on the Swiss Olympic Committee to do that for him.

    “Swiss Olympic is giving me all the necessary information that I need to know going in. They’ll tell me what I need to do once I get there,” added the 2008 Olympic doubles gold medallist.

    “They’ll give me the products I need to use. I trust them, that they guide me in the right direction. No, I have not been reading every article because otherwise I’d go crazy. I read some of it because it’s important to be informed.”

    Andy Murray, who won gold in singles at the London Olympics four years ago, is following a similar approach to Federer’s.

    The world No. 2, who has recently started a family with his wife Kim and has a four-month old daughter Sophia, has consulted with British Tennis doctors and plans on flying to Rio.

    “I spoke to my doctor a bit and some of the guys on my team spoke to the doctor of British Tennis, who has been working there for, I don’t know, 35, 40 years. He seems to think that it’s pretty safe and that we should be okay,” explained Murray.

    Reigning men's singles champion Andy Murray to return in Rio.

    Reigning men’s singles champion Andy Murray to return in Rio.

    “I think probably when I’m done here, I’ll have another chat with him, you know, make sure. But, yeah, my plan is still to play.”

    World No. 1 Serena Williams said she was “concerned but prepared” saying the United States Tennis Association and the US Olympic Committee have equipped her with lots of information.

    No players have noted the fact that they are mostly getting their information from entities who have it in their best interest to send their best stars to the Games to maximise on their medal opportunities.

    World No. 2 Garbine Muguruza has faith that the organisers of the Olympics will not allow the Games to go ahead if there are any serious health risks, disregarding the fact that massive amounts of money have been invested and a decision like that is very unlikely to happen no matter what.

    “I’m not really looking and I don’t really know what is Zika virus,” confessed the Spaniard.

    “But if they’re making Olympic Games there, I mean, it has to be, I don’t know, some security. I don’t think they’re going to make Olympic Games, and we don’t care, doesn’t matter if we get that there. I think there will not be a problem.”

    American Coco Vandeweghe, who has made the US tennis team as the doubles partner of Bethanie Mattek-Sands, seemed highly critical of athletes who have opted out of the Olympics.

    “I honestly haven’t done any research. I see a bunch of people pulling out of the event claiming that’s the reason. I haven’t done any research, so I don’t have any idea about it,” said Vandewege.

    “I think to be playing at the Olympics, I think some people take for granted when they say no to it. It’s not a given right to play for your country. It’s a privilege to play for your country. I think that should be a lot of people’s priorities and I think that’s forgotten, that people take for granted when they USA or whatever country next to their name.

    “It’s a huge deal and for me I don’t think something like that – I honestly don’t know anything about it – would prevent me from going.”

    World No. 5 Simona Halep is the only top player to cast some doubt over her participation, the Romanian saying she would pull out if it’s not safe.

    “I have to research this virus because it’s not easy (to get all the information),” Halep told Reuters.

    “I’ve asked many doctors and I have to speak to doctors again after this tournament. I’ve heard that even if you are not pregnant at the moment and you get the virus, when you get pregnant it (the virus) will activate. I’m very worried.

    “I am planning to go (to Rio) but I have to make sure it is safe there and I am safe there. When I play tennis, my health is the most important thing.

    “It’s a real dilemma when it’s about your health, so I cannot say anything now for sure (whether I will pull out or not). After this tournament I have to decide (whether I will go).”

    Canadian world No. 7 Milos Raonic believes the lack of concrete information about the virus is the main cause for concern.

    “I’ve heard different numbers (the time the virus remains in a patient’s body). From what I read, all the government agencies, nobody is putting definitive information on it because there isn’t enough information at this point. So nobody has put out concrete things. Some people say it stays in your system for two months, some people say two years. I think probably the biggest fear is not knowing,” said the 25-year-old Raonic.

    With the summer packed for the tennis pros, who had Roland Garros and now Wimbledon to think about, many like Tomas Berdych, Johanna Konta and Svetlana Kuznetsova have not focused on the Olympics at all but might be in for a surprise once they start finding out more about Zika.

    Kuznetsova knows nothing about it and feels reports online may be exaggerated.

    “You know how press does things. Like in Paris people were telling me ‘don’t go out on the streets, it’s like rivers everywhere’ and I’m like ‘what are you talking about? I was just at the Champs Elysees’. So you never know, if you’re afraid of everything it would be bad, but then of course there are some limits,” said the Russian.