Rio 2016: a bigger threat from zika or robbers?

Saddleworth Independent’s sports editor Tony Bugby is reporting from his seventh Olympic Games and here he gives a unique insight into how Rio de Janeiro is coping with the greatest show on earth.

rio_olympics_2016_logo_a_pPerhaps one of the most fascinating observations about the zika virus came from a team leader at the Deodoro Accommodation Village.

“You have far more chance of being robbed in Rio than catching the disease,” declared Raphael Malaspina.

That put into context the minimal risk the virus poses, a stark contrast to the vision portrayed at home which was of a country in the grips of a health crisis.

“That talk is trash and doesn’t do us any favours. It puts people off coming to our country,” explained Malaspina.

The television reports about zika have been both dramatic and graphic, especially babies born with disabilities after pregnant women contracted the virus.

Yes, there is a problem but in a country that has an estimated population of 208million, it is only a minimal one.

There was debate beforehand whether the Olympic Games should go ahead in Rio because of the zika virus as the situation was portrayed as critical.

And when top sports stars like golfers Rory McIlroy and Jordan Speith pulled out citing zika, that only went to further fuel the issue.

It would be lying to say it was not a concern as I prepared for the trip to Rio.

But after doing my own research, I discovered the Olympic host city offered a ‘low risk’ of malaria or contracting zaikai.

Indeed, going to my medical practice for inoculations, I was informed malaria tablets weren’t even necessary.

That was a stark contrast to two previous trips to South America where I ventured into the Amazonian rain forest and needed a vast array of jabs for tropical diseases.

I even consulted with local Olympian Nicola White to see what guidelines athletes had been given by their sports.

She informed me the hockey players had been instructed to apply sun block first and then mosquito repellant and also to wear long sleeves.

So I left for Rio armed with repellant, long-sleeved shirts and trousers as I definitely erred on the side of being ultra cautious.

But what is it actually like on the ground in Rio? Nothing like the vision portrayed at home.

In the first few days, I strictly adhered to instruction with repellant used liberally and precious little flesh exposed.

Indeed, with all those precautions, I still managed to acquire seven bites, all beneath my clothing.

Amazingly six were in the armpit area – why pesky little insects found that so appealing beggared belief or logic. It is the last place I would have expected to have been affected.

The other was on my leg and was the nastiest as it resulted in a blister developing.

However, travelling around Rio it soon became apparent that the locals didn’t regard zika as a threat.

Indeed, anybody wearing trousers and long-sleeved shirts looked distinctly out of place in this paradise for sunseekers.

It may be winter, when the threat from zika is at its lowest, but the temperatures are still in the seventies and eighties most days.

And at Copacabana or Ipanema, two of the world’s most iconic beaches, you would never believe this was a country supposedly gripped by the zika virus as plenty of flesh is exposed.

Having spoken to locals and observed the situation on the ground, I have reassessed the situation.

I no longer apply mosquito repellant each morning – the smell isn’t exactly the most pleasant – and I am going outside wearing short-sleeve shirts, though most of those brought with me are long.

The situation is thankfully far from the horror scenario painted by the media in Britain.

And as Malaspina observed the threat from robbers is far greater in Rio than mosquitos.

Athletes queuing outside McDonald’s in their village, with the tower blocks are where they are staying in the background

On a lighter note, this picture disproves the notion that Olympic Games athletes have a healthy diet.

It is a queue outside the McDonald’s fast-foot outlet at the athlete’s village and included Frenchman Jimmy Vicaud who the previous night had contested the final of the men’s 100m, an event won by Usain Bolt.

Though the athletes’ village is out of bounds to the public and media, they can get a guest pass to gain access to the international zone, an area where there are shops and other facilities.

But at lunchtime the fast-food outlet was a honey pot for athletes as queues snaked well outside the building.


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