The Rio Olympics have yet to begin, but they’ve already been marred by water pollution, construction delays and concerns over the Zika virus. Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes and can spread via sexual contact. It’s also been linked to severe birth defects leading to abnormally small heads.
Over the last year, the number of Zika illnesses in Brazil has exploded. And concerns over its spread have caused a number of high-profile athletes including golfers Jason Day and Rory McIlroy to announce that they will not go to Rio because of Zika and even South Korean athletes will wear “Zika-proof” uniforms infused with mosquito repellent in hopes of avoiding the virus.
But one NBC Sports executive is not so worried about Zika. Gary Zenkel, President of NBC Olympics tells the Recode Decode podcast that the disease is of little concern to him. He said in his experience, every Olympic host city has had issues going into the Games and Rio is no different:
“Welcome to the world. The world that I have had the good fortune to travel around, and work at what will now be my 11th Olympics, it’s hard to remember a location where there weren’t issues that concerned us, that concerned those who might travel or work in the local city.”
While NBC has given the option to its employees to opt out of going to Rio (Savannah Guthrie is one), Zenkel said most of NBC’s employees who are going to Brazil for the Olympics will be in air-conditioned buildings and won’t be experiencing too many mosquitoes.
“If you’re pregnant, the recommendation is that you don’t go. If you’re not, you take precautions and if you’re very, very, very unlucky, you could contract Zika and it’s a few bad days,” Zenkel said, noting that the Games are being held during Rio’s winter months of July and August. “The actual risk, especially if you’re a traveler in an air-conditioned building, hotel, workspace or out on a field of play, of contracting the virus, of encountering a mosquito is very, very, very slim.”
So Zenkel doesn’t seem to be worried, downplaying the risk and describes for those who do contract the virus as “a few bad days.” As the Olympics will be held during what will be winter in the Southern Hemisphere, the risk will be lower, but there are those who want to totally eliminate the risk by choosing not to go.