U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo revealed that if the Rio Olympics were going on right now, she would not get on the plane because of Zika.
The spread of the virus has raised fears across the region about the Summer Olympics being held in Brazil in August, and that includes the high-profile players of the 2015 World Cup champion U.S. women’s national soccer team.
“If I had to make the choice today, I wouldn’t go,” Solo told Sports Illustrated in an interview published earlier this week, ahead of the team’s Olympic qualifying tournament.
The 34-year-old goalie opened up about the possibility of someday having a child with her husband, former NFL player Jerramy Stevens, and said that she feels uncomfortable with the health situation in Brazil.
“I would never take the risk of having an unhealthy child,” Solo said. "I don’t know when that day will come for Jerramy and me, but I personally reserve my right to have a healthy baby. No athlete competing in Rio should be faced with this dilemma. Female professional athletes already face many different considerations and have to make choices that male professional athletes don’t.”
She added: “We accept these particular choices as part of being a woman, but I do not accept being forced into making the decision between competing for my country and sacrificing the potential health of a child or staying home and giving up my dreams and goals as an athlete. Competing in the Olympics should be a safe environment for every athlete – male and female alike.”
The team's players were scheduled to be briefed Tuesday night on the developing Zika crisis in Latin America, a day before the start of the CONCACAF Olympic qualification tournament in Texas.
The 2016 Olympics are scheduled for Aug. 5-21 in Brazil, where the Zika virus is spreading rapidly. Speaking at a news conference in advance of the U.S. team's tournament opener against Costa Rica, coach Jill Ellis said there have been "constant conversations behind the scenes" about the virus.
"I think at this point the focus is certainly we want to not distract from the performance ... We haven't qualified, so talking about Rio right now for me is not something that's in my scope," Ellis said. "But I think we're certainly sensitive to the fact that this has become a global issue."
The Zika virus has spread throughout Latin America via mosquitoes. While most people experience either mild or no symptoms, Zika is suspected of causing microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an abnormally small head. Pregnant women are urged to avoid travel to affected areas.
"We're focused on qualifying, so we don't really have Rio in our sites yet until the end of this month, hopefully," U.S. forward Alex Morgan said. "But Zika virus is a scary thing that is very unknown for a lot of people, especially on the side of women who might want to get pregnant in the years after the Olympics."
Rio organizers have tried to calm fears that the Olympics may be affected, maintaining that the games will not be canceled. The Olympics will be held during Brazil's winter, when colder temperatures should limit the mosquito population.
The International Olympic Committee has expressed confidence in measures being taken against the virus in Brazil and is following the advice of the World Health Organization. The IOC has distributed guidance to all national Olympic committees.
Asked if he was concerned for his team, Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar said Tuesday that he trusted that international health officials would provide the procedures to keep athletes safe.
"I think medicine has advanced in so many ways to prevent things. We're confident it's not going to be a problem," Cuellar said. "We haven't thought about it until you mentioned that, because we have to [get] there first."
Mexico is among the eight teams playing in the tournament to determine which will represent the North and Central America and Caribbean region at the Olympics. The tournament's championship game is set for Feb. 21 in Houston.
The top two teams will earn Olympic berths. The United States, ranked No. 1 in the world, has won the gold medal the last three Olympics.
"I think right now we're trying to keep our focus on the game, and I think we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. For me, in terms of even locally here in CONCACAF, there's been a lot happening behind the scenes that probably people aren't aware of just to make sure we're informed and we're safe," Ellis said.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.