Friday, May 13, 2016

The Olympic flame(ing mess)

So I've been putting together a list of events that will likely make an appearance at the Rio Olympics in less than three months, assuming there still is a Rio Olympics in less than three months:

1. 12-Meter Contaminant Yachting.

2. The 100-Meter Dash For The Can (Also known as Greco-Roman Dysentery).

3. Contagion Roulette.

4. Truth Or Dare You To Drink The Water.

And last but hardly least:

5. Compulsory Mosquito Netting Arrangement.

In which the nation that arranges its netting so it gets bitten the fewest times by Zika-bearing mosquitoes wins. In more ways than one.

This is some grand balls-up we've got shaping up down in Rio, and not just because the president of Brazil just got impeached, plunging the country into political turmoil. First of all, there's that little problem with the sailing venues, which will basically be conducted in an open sewer. Now there's the much more considerable issue of the Zika virus, which has been around forever but has mutated  into a much more dangerous strain for some people.

Olympic officials have predictably tried to downplay the threat, just as they casually brushed aside the issue with Rio's appallingly contaminated watersports sites. This is not only callous but almost criminally irresponsible, given that Brazil is about to invite half-a-million visitors to Rio in the middle of a Zika outbreak of significant scope.

Or so says Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa professor of population health, who wrote this in the Harvard Public Health Review (excerpt courtesy of Deadspin): "But for the Games, would anyone recommend sending an extra half a million visitors into Brazil right now?  Of course not: mass migration into the heart of an outbreak is a public health no-brainer. And given the choice between accelerating a dangerous new disease or not—for it is impossible that the Games will slow Zika down—the answer should be a no-brainer for the Olympic organizers too. Putting sentimentality aside, clearly the Rio 2016 Games must not proceed."

Now, granted, most of those infected won't be at any great risk. But some will be. And yet the Olympic poobahs seem perfectly willing to roll the dice -- the dice in this case being the health and well-being of their athletes. And, as Attaran points out, what happens when all those Olympic visitors go home?

Then, he says, you've got the potential to turn a regional outbreak into a pandemic.

So, to review: The Olympics is about to expose the world's athletes to contaminated venues and a potentially dangerous virus in a nation in the midst of political upheaval.

What could possibly go wrong?

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