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  • Writer's pictureHalle Arbaugh


Photo: Halle Arbaugh

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The city sits at the base of tall, dome-shaped mountains covered in jungle terrain, daily casting shadows upon the sandy light beaches which snake along turquoise waters. Below are tall buildings clustered along the shores, home to a population of some 6 million.  It is a city always vibrant with the flurry of activity:  beach-goers play soccer and volleyball on the colorful beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana; small cars race along the seaside Avenue Atlantica with the arms of Christ the Redeemer open in the distance; the crowded nightly pagodes – Brazilian dance parties – host a cacophony of vibrant music and vendors. It is a city with a contagious atmosphere, the sounds of Portuguese audible over street music and the brushing of waves upon the shores, the characteristic Brazilian celebration of daily life usually evident.

It is also a city in which millions of its inhabitants are awaiting the huge influx of athletes, media, and spectators expected to descend upon Rio from near and far for the Olympic Games, which commence August 1.  The city has seen such an event before,  and very recently: Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup.  The city, it was thought, would know how to prepare for massive crowds and having done so in 2014, the event would go smoothly.  And when it was announced that Rio would host, the city celebrated that it would be South America’s first.

Yet anticipation for the normally festive Olympics has been buried this year by international alarm over the mosquito-spread Zika virus. In recent weeks, more and more prolific athletes have announced they will not participate in the games with tennis stars Milos Raonic and Simona Halep, golfers Jordan Spieth, Marc Leishman, Rory McIllroy and others citing the virus as their reason. Meanwhile, an unknown number of potential event-goers have been deterred from planning a trip to the Brazilian culture capital and many reporters for news outlets like BBC have refused to cover the games.  Somewhere in the flurry of stories invoking alarm about Zika, which can cause severe birth defects if it infects pregnant women, the Olympics have become almost completely overshadowed, Rio and its many unique attractions lying dejectedly in a pool of international anxiety.

The alarm is not uncalled for, because the CDC has devoted an entire page to precautions to Rio-bound travelers, even going so far to warn, “Women who are pregnant: Do not go to the Olympics” and to men who go to the Olympics and have pregnant partners, not to have any form of sex for the rest of the pregnancy. Those travelers who brave the Zika virus, the CDC says, should at the very least take extreme precautions against mosquito bites.

What the Olympics will bring, and whether the influx of travelers will carry Zika with them away from Rio, remains to be seen. What is certain now is that with less than two weeks to go the Olympic spirits are at a low.

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