July 27, 2016

What if Zika had hit in 2014?

by Dan Bilicki In: Olympics, Soccer

In case you haven’t been paying attention to any of the sports, travel or news sections in recent months leading up to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next month, there’s a not-so-little virus called Zika going around.

The irony is that this very big outbreak is happening because the disease can be communicated by one of the world’s smallest annoyances – mosquitoes.

Due this and the effects of the disease – mainly that it can seriously harm fetuses and affect births up to two years after contracting the disease – some big-name athletes have dropped out of the Games. Pros have been dropping like flies, with a withdrawal being announced what feels like every other day.

It’s hard to criticize anyone unwilling to risk their health and well-being for an athletic endeavor so we’ll just leave it at that.

But there’s also a question that came to my mind about the timing of this outbreak: What if it had happened two years ago, when Brazil was hosting the World Cup?

While the Summer Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, with thousands of athletes coming from around the world, the World Cup is a close second.

The biggest difference between the two is that while there are some professional athletes that participate in the Games, the World Cup is made up 100% of people who play soccer for a living. And, as some of the keener observers may have noted, most of the athletes bowing out of Rio are pros – mainly golfers and tennis players, who have other tournaments to they can focus on that will likely net them more money than an Olympic medal.

For athletes like swimmers, weight-lifters and track stars, this is the be-all, end-all of their sport. This is it, the pinnacle of it all. For a golfer, this is more like a minor annoyance with a big health risk.

So would the top stars of the soccer world have come to Brazil with this Zika outbreak in full effect?

The World Cup is, of course, the top prize in the sport. But would a player from a European team like Greece or Switzerland, with no real chance of winning fly to Brazil and risk their health?

Would some stars in their mid-20s, hoping to start a family soon, take that flight?

And you also have weigh the fact that Cup games took place all over Brazil, including in Manaus, in the middle of the Amazon. I’m sure that it would be tough to not get a mosquito bite or two that deep into the jungle.

It’s an interesting thing to think about leading up to the Games’ opening ceremonies in just over a week. What if this was two years ago? And what if the world didn’t come to Brazil?

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