Wednesday during the U.S. women’s soccer team Olympic debut game against New Zealand, controversial veteran USA goalie Hope Solo was heckled by Brazilian fans chanting “Zika, Zika.”
Zika has dominated the media’s coverage of the Road to Rio. Transmitted by mosquitos and sexual intercourse, with the Confederations Cup, World Cup, and now the Olympics, Zika has had the perfect environment to spread. For months, medical experts have railed nonstop that the disease causes severe birth defects and women are particularly at risk.
We’ve all seen the devastating photographs. We’ve all shuddered at the thought of the horror befalling our own families, especially as we’re watching it happen at home in Miami. Women are opting out of attending destination weddings in places like Puerto Rico where the virus is prevalent.
It’s no wonder the virus has deterred many athletes from competing. Like Hope, however, many Olympians have decided to compete and take extra precautions, but they shouldn’t be expected to stay silent about it.
Since the start of the coverage of these Olympics, Solo has been one of the leading voices expressing concern over the effects of Zika. As a woman considering motherhood, she is the demographic that stands the most to lose from Zika. This forced her into an awful position: health versus history. Why would America want any of its athletes to feel this way? Are the Olympic Games just not as big of a deal as they used to be?
We’re Endangering People’s Lives—For What?
At 35, Solo is a world-class athlete. She is the USA’s all-time leader in goalkeeper caps, starts, wins, and shutouts. On July 9 in a match against South Africa, she became the first goalkeeper in the world ever to achieve the 100-shutout milestone. Solo is on track to earn her 200th cap during the Olympics, which would make her the eleventh U.S. player to hit 200 caps and the first goalkeeper in international soccer history to do so. Bar none, Solo is the best keeper in the world.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines say if you’re pregnant do not travel to affected areas. They also say to not travel if you plan on getting pregnant. This means that by going to the Olympics, all female athletes must put having a child on hold. For a 35-year-old woman, timing can be crucial.
Even if female athletes don’t want to get pregnant immediately, they are faced with the obligation to wait eight weeks (for men it’s six months), and these are just the guidelines. There is still no way of knowing for sure whether the eight-week period is long enough, and our athletes shouldn’t have to make that decision. America’s athletes shouldn’t have to choose between their health plus the well-being their families and a major historic athletic milestone that they only have the opportunity to achieve every four years. That’s so especially when they’re representing the United States on an international stage and the prime of an individual’s athletic prowess has such a short window.
Last month, when Solo took to social media to share pictures of how she plans to protect herself from the virus in Rio, she received overwhelming criticism for her “ignorance” and “insensitivity.” While she did apologize, citing media hype for her paranoia, there are safety kits being distributed to the athletes and the threat hasn’t gone away. All she did was tweet that she wants to play and is frustrated with having to go in a unsafe area, and she’s taking the CDC-suggested precautions, which is to aggressively prevent bites via repellent and cover exposed skin (using netting and repellent).
Solo said of the heckling, “I’m glad the fans had fun… And if they had fun at my expense, more power to them.” But nobody should ever be harassed for serious personal health concerns.
Earlier this week, speaking from Rio by satellite to the Television Critics Association, NBC’s primetime host Bob Costas said that while all Olympic cities in the past have had its problems, they haven’t been anything like Rio. He said, “Rio probably has the biggest array of problems or potential problems” of any Olympics venue.
What was America thinking, subjecting our athletes to the dangers in Rio? And why aren’t we defending them?