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Zika becoming a PR crisis for Brazil games

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For millions across the globe, knowing what to make of the Zika virus has become a frustrating mental calculation. Headlines are dire, but stories seem to ramble and offer a lot of statistics and corollary worries. But at least one U.S. Olympic athlete is taking no chances.

Cyclist withdraws from Olympics

The Associated Press reported American cyclist Tejay van Garderen recently withdrew his name from consideration for the Rio Olympics, directly because of concerns related to contracting Zika and pass it on to his pregnant wife. The AP said he is the first athlete to withdraw from the Games due to Zika fears.


The US is expected to announce its road cycling team later this month, and the spokesman for USA Cycling, Kevin Loughery, said van Garderen is the only athlete to have withdrawn from the team. With only two spots on that team, it might not seem like such a big deal, but van Garderen, a 2012 Olympian, was expected to be a ringer. He’s a Tour de France competitor and a strong time trial rider, who would have excelled in the mountainous terrain around Rio.

Brazil’s PR Issue

Meanwhile the brand with the biggest PR issue – the host Brazilians – are doing all they can to quell fears before they run rampant. They have told the Olympic Committee that cases of Zika will “significantly drop” over the summer and that the virus poses “no public health risk” that should merit canceling the Games.


The host city has been name-dropping, invoking star athletes such as Usain Bolt and Rafael Nadal, who have said they aren’t worried about traveling to Rio for the Games.


While van Garderen may be the first to actively resign, he’s not the only athlete with concerns. U.S. soccer superstar Hope Solo has mentioned being “concerned” about Zika. Worse, a team of 150 “health experts” have called for the Rio Games to be moved or postponed to avoid the spread of the disease.


Most people are not giving these warnings much respect. If the athletes and the fans aren’t worried and take precautions, they say everything will be okay. In this case, we’ll know who’s right by fall.

David Firester is the founder of TRAC Intelligence.

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