The Summer Olympics are coming! We're less than two months away from the opening ceremonies, so I guess it's time to start getting excited about finally having our every-four-years itch for world-class track and gymnastics scratched. Except it's different this time around. At last count, nearly half of all Americans believe the Olympics should be delayed or cancelled altogether. I'm one of those Americans. We talk about all the reasons that going forward with the Summer Games is a mistake on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comics Jeff May and Caitlin Cutt. It's also what I'm talking about in this column here today. Up first, let's get the most obvious concern out of the way.
5The Zika Virus
Remember the statistic I quoted earlier about Americans who believe the Olympics should be cancelled? It was like three sentences ago. Humor me and pretend you read the intro. Anyway, the people questioned in that survey were expressing their concerns about just one issue: the Zika virus.
It's kind of difficult to grasp how much of a problem Zika already is and could be in the future, because it's not one of those Hollywood movie plagues which cause people to bleed from the eyes and discharge their liquefied innards through their already-overworked orifices. In adults, the symptoms are similar to a mild version of dengue fever, if there are any symptoms at all.
However, pregnant women who become infected can spread it to their fetus, at which point the impact of the disease becomes way more noticeable. The standout performer in the arsenal of brain defects and issues it leads to is microcephaly, in which the brain stops developing in the womb. Since the brain isn't growing, the skull just kind of collapses around it, leaving your kid with a head that's approximately half the size of a normal head.
A small price to pay for getting Usain Bolt's autograph.
The Zika virus needs three things to be in place before it can truly take hold in any given area: the Aedes aegypti mosquito, crowded human dwellings, and poverty. The Olympics are in Brazil this year. If you're even sort of familiar with that place, you already know that two of those three things are so common there that they might as well be on the flag (along with guns and beautiful people). It won't surprise you at all to know they do, in fact, have the necessary mosquitoes as well. As a result, the CDC slapped a level 2 alert on the country to warn travelers about Zika. What does that mean? I don't know, but it's worse than level 1, and level 3 means you just shouldn't go there at all, so it's not great. And that's without thousands of people from all around the world converging on Rio at the exact same time.
Last month, 150 doctors signed a letter urging the World Health Organization to postpone or cancel the games. The WHO responded by releasing a statement meant to reassure us that the threat of Zika spreading during the Olympics was slim, because mosquito activity in Brazil is usually on the decline by August.
If that doesn't do much to make you feel better about it, you're not alone. Several scientists have already come forward to point out that what the WHO is saying is based, at least in part, on the idea that the weather will be cooler and less rainy in August. Mosquito eggs don't die; they just go dormant when the weather gets cold. However, that literally changes with the weather. Any sudden rise in heat or humidity, and those eggs will hatch. But hey, the weather's been pretty easy to predict lately, right?
Also, it's worth noting that the WHO is the same organization that accepted cash from food companies like Coca-Cola and Nestle in exchange for those companies having a say in how we fight obesity and diabetes in the United States. That's like letting drug cartels have a say in how to keep cocaine from entering the country. Call me crazy, but I think I trust those 150 doctors a little more than the WHO.
Even if the Zika virus doesn't become a pandemic as a result of the Olympics, it's still a pretty safe bet that at least some of the athletes brave enough to participate will get sick, because of ...
Part of the appeal of the Olympics coming to town is that, in theory, some of the work done to get ready for a production of that magnitude will have long-term benefits for residents after the games end. That's probably not going to happen for Brazil. One of the biggest improvements was supposed to happen in Guanabara Bay, which looks beautiful from a distance in stock photos ...
... but a little less so when you see it up close.
It's brimming with raw sewage and other assorted pollutants. Back when the dream of the 2016 Olympics not becoming a full-on disaster was still alive, it was estimated that 50 percent of the water flowing into the bay was sewage. That's pretty gross, but the government of Brazil promised to reduce that by 80 percent before the opening ceremonies rolled around. Which was in the best interest of everyone, really, seeing as how a "super-bug" that's resistant to antibiotics was also found in the water around that time.
Unfortunately, Brazil being the hotbed of corruption that it is, the money that was allocated to clean up the bay has apparently gone missing, and the promise of a less polluted Guanabara Bay for Olympic athletes is now off the table. They swear the pollution doesn't pose a health risk, as does the IOC, but that's because none of their testing is checking for viral pathogens, like the super-bug mentioned earlier.
You can't possibly fathom how long I've been waiting for an excuse to use this stock photo.
Stories of athletes in practice events coming down with stomach illnesses have already started making the rounds online, but that's apparently not going to stop hundreds more from swimming or boating in literal shit water in pursuit of Olympic gold.
Even worse, the problem might even extend to the drinking water, as pointed out in this article which covers all the various immunizations a person should get before traveling to Brazil.
So even if Zika doesn't infect a single additional person as a result of the Olympics, the toilet water some athletes will be forced to compete in will still guarantee that a lot of people get sick. I suppose it's worth it if it means you might get to live the rock star lifestyle of an Olympic-medal-winning sailor afterward, but I certainly wouldn't want to risk it.