5 Min Read
LOS ANGELES/DUBAI (Reuters) - Leading male golfers say they will not allow fears about the Zika virus keep them away from Brazil when their sport returns to the Olympics after an absence of more than a century.
The spread of the mosquito-borne virus spread across Latin America has given some athletes preparing for the Games in Rio de Janeiro in August cause for concern.
The U.S. Olympic Committee has told U.S. sports federations that athletes and staff worried for their health should consider not going to the Games.
Kenya threatened on Tuesday to pull its elite runners and other athletes out unless it got assurances they would not be exposed to the virus outbreak in Brazil.
But golfers canvassed by Reuters at events in the past week said they were unperturbed by the situation, joining other sports personalities who have said they are still keen to go.
Golfers spend most of their time on the road competing in events across the globe, often in countries where they have to contend with a myriad of challenges off the course.
Though the World Health Organization last week declared Zika an international health emergency that could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas, symptoms are typically mild.
"We've traveled all over the world playing golf," American world number 14 Brandt Snedeker said at last week's PGA Tour event, the Phoenix Open.
"We're used to being in different climates and different areas with many different concerns, not just the Zika virus or whatever it might be, so we realize the dangers when we do travel.
Snedeker, who is one of 10 U.S. players vying for four spots at the Games, expressed confidence in local and international health authorities taking every precaution.
"We have this sort of concern when we go to China every year with smog alerts, we have it when we go to Singapore, Thailand, India or any other Asian country," said Snedeker, an eight-times winner on the PGA Tour.
Fellow American Brooks Koepka, the world number 19, said he was not really concerned by the Zika virus.
"You've just got to be careful, that's all," said Koepka, who clinched his first PGA Tour title at the 2015 Phoenix Open.
"I've been to a bunch of places where you've got to take medications and things like that just to kind of survive."
For Argentine world number 34 Emiliano Grillo, who is assured of a place in Rio, the Zika virus gave him a sense of deja vu.
"Where I'm from, we've got another mosquito virus (Dengue fever) which is pretty similar," Grillo said.
"Everybody is making a deal about the Zika virus just because it's something new. The same thing happened when Dengue fever popped up in Buenos Aires for a couple of months and everybody made a huge deal about it. I am not scared of it."
Health officials are most concerned by Zika's potential link to microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.
Brazil is investigating Zika's possible links to more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly among newborns.
"I'm normally not easily scared but it's obviously not a good situation with the virus, it seems to affect pregnant moms in a very bad way," Sweden's world number five Henrik Stenson said at last week's Dubai Desert Classic.
Asked whether his preparations for Rio would be affected in any way, Stenson replied: "Not really. I'm not bringing the kids, my wife is going to come down and some family.
Englishman Danny Willett, who won his fourth European Tour title at the Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday, said the Zika virus would not change his plans for the Olympics, where golf will be making its first appearance since 1904.
"No, it only affects pregnant women and she's not coming," 13th-ranked Willett said, referring to his wife Nicole, who is due to give birth to their first child in late March or April.
"She'll have given birth by then, plus she wasn't coming anyway, so no."
Pre-Olympic trials are scheduled in Rio before August
and the International Olympic Committee says the Games will take place during the winter months when a drier, cooler climate reduces the presence of mosquitoes and the risk of infection.
The IOC says there have been no discussions about cancelling or postponing the Games, although some medical experts they should be.
Editing by Angus MacSwan