What if they held the Olympic Games and nobody came?
Every day, that is becoming less of a hypothetical question as a string of highly visible athletes pull out of consideration for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Australia's Jason Day, the world’s top-ranked golfer, joined the ranks on Tuesday. The reason? Fear of infection by the Zika virus.
— Jason Day (@JDayGolf) June 28, 2016
In a Twitter post, Day explained, “The reason for my decision is my concerns about the possible transmission of the Zika virus, and the potential risks that it may present to my wife’s future pregnancies and to future members of my family … Medical experts have confirmed that, while perhaps slight, a decision to compete in Rio absolutely comes with health risks to me and to my family.”
Day is not alone. A number of top athletes have dropped out – or threatened to – of the Rio Olympics, which will take place from August 5 to 21, for fear of contracting the disease.
Many of them are golfers. That includes Fiji’s Vijay Singh and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who issued a statement that read, “Even though the risk of infection from the Zika virus is considered low, it is a risk nonetheless and a risk I am unwilling to take.”
Possibly that is because golf is a new event, and the importance of the Games hasn’t permeated the sports’ culture yet.
U.S. cyclist Tejay van Garderen, who has finished fifth at the Tour de France twice, is one of the few non-golfers who pulled out citing Zika concerns. He told the website CyclingTips, “I don’t want to take any chances [with Zika]. If anything were to happen, I couldn’t live with myself.”
More have dropped out of consideration for the Games without specifically citing the virus, like U.S. men’s basketball superstars Steph Curry and LeBron James.
Dozens more have expressed concern, including Spanish basketball star Pau Gasol, U.S. soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, and Spanish swimmer Mireia Belmonte.
A Rio 2016 Olympic Committee spokesperson told Fox News Latino that it isn’t concerned about a large-scale revolt by the athletes. Even asked simply to imagine such a hypothetical situation, the spokesperson remained adamant.
"It will not happen,” he said. “We respect the decision of these athletes, but they are a minority. We know that most athletes will come."
In a letter released last month, 150 scientists from a number of countries argued that the Olympic Games should be postponed or moved to another city due to the Zika outbreak in Brazil.
The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement saying that the risk of contamination during the Games is "very low."
The country’s Ministry of Health pointed out that the disease is present in 60 countries, and that Brazil accounts for only 15 percent of the people who have been exposed to the virus. It also reasserted that August, which is winter in Rio, sees a decrease in the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases in general and specifically those the Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads, which includes not just Zika but dengue fever, chikungunya and yellow fever.
"In 2015,” the Ministry of Health noted in a statement, “August was the month with the lowest incidence of dengue cases in the country.” The ministry also pointed to the fact that while athletes may be staying away, WHO officials aren’t.
“WHO's director general, Margaret Chan, has already confirmed that she will come to the Olympic Games, which should be interpreted as a symbol of its safety," the ministry asserted.
The Olympic Committee claims to have carried out 44 test events in the last 12 months – most of them during the summer months – bringing together some 7,000 athletes and 8,000 volunteers for them, and there was no record of a single transmission."
The Rio committee "has inspected daily the venues of the Olympic and Paralympic Games with municipal health monitoring authorities in order to minimize the risk of contact with the mosquito."
None of which is quelling the doubts of skeptics.
Biologist Mario Moscatelli says that if there is a particularly warm spell leading up to the Games – which would not be an altogether unusual occurrence – the mosquitoes could become active. The city, he said, is not prepared to handle such a situation.
"The Committee and the mayor are counting on luck,” Moscatelli told FNL recently.
Beyond Zika, the news coming out of Brazil these days isn’t very inviting for athletes who wish to come to the country. Researchers at the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, known as FioCruz, found highly resistant superbacterias in Guanabara Bay, where the open-water sailing events will be held.
Experts stress that this bacteria usually affects people who already have immune issues, but there are non-health reasons to worry too, such as security.
An Australian Paralympic sailing competitor, Liesl Tesch, was assaulted recently while training in Aterro do Flamengo, where some water sports will take place.
And the state of Rio de Janeiro, which is supposed to foot the bill for security during the Olympics, recently declared a “state of emergency” in the hopes of getting the federal government to pay for some of its commitments.
Unhappy police officers who claim not to have been paid their full wages recently greeted tourists at Rio’s international airport holding up a sign reading, “Welcome to Hell.”
— Martin Hodgson (@MartinxHodgson) June 28, 2016
As if to prove the officers right, on Wednesday morning, a street vendor at Copacabana beach found a human foot and other body parts that washed up on the sand.