Rio 2016 Olympics: Zika virus concerns could see Kenya withdraw from competition

Mercy Cherono
Mercy Cherono won Gold in the 5000, at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Photo by Augustas Didzgalvis and used under the Creative Commons licence.

The head of Kenya’s Olympic Committee, Kipchoge Keino has said that if the Zika virus in Brazil reaches “epidemic levels”, Kenya could withdraw from this summer’s Olympics in Rio.

“We are not going to risk taking Kenyans there if this Zika virus reaches epidemic levels.”

– Kipchoge Keino

However, Kenya’s Olympic committee later sought to clarify Keino’s comments, saying he may have been quoted out of context with chef de mission, Stephen K A Soi, saying it was too early to determine the severity of the situation, adding that Rio’s organisers were “on top of things”.

At the London 2012 Olympics, Kenya won 11 medals in athletics, but one of their biggest stars, David Rudisha, would be denied an opportunity to defend his 800m Olympic title should the country withdraw.

David Rudisha
David Rudisha during the 2015 World Championships . Photo by Erik van Leeuwen and used under the Creative Commons Licence.

After Kenya topped the World Athletics Championships’ medal table last year, they would be greatly missed on the track as they boast many of the world’s best middle and long-distance runners.

The outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease in South America is being linked to severe birth defects, but Brazilian authorities insist there will be no risk to athletes and spectators, except pregnant women.

However, last week the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a global public health emergency.

The International Olympic Committee has said it is in “close contact” with organisers who say Olympic venues will be inspected daily before and during the Games.