Kenya won't skip Olympics just yet

Head of Kenya's Olympics committee Kipchoge Keino speaks during a Reuters interview inside his office in Nairobi, on Feb 9, 2016.
Head of Kenya's Olympics committee Kipchoge Keino speaks during a Reuters interview inside his office in Nairobi, on Feb 9, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

NAIROBI • Kenya caused a stir on Tuesday when the head of its Olympics committee said the team might withdraw from the Rio Games because of Zika, but officials later said it was too soon to decide on the impact of the virus.

The mosquito-borne virus, which is widespread in Brazil and has been linked to birth defects, has prompted concern among athletes and sports officials around the world as they prepare for the Aug 5-21 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, so combating the outbreak is focused on eradicating mosquito populations and preventing mosquito bites.

National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock) head Kipchoge Keino said the country would not "risk taking Kenyans there if this Zika virus reaches epidemic levels", and that he was seeking reassurances from organisers. But Nock played down the comments, saying the East African country was monitoring the potential health threats and receiving regular updates.

"It is too early to make a determination on the status of the virus during the Games time which is six months away," said Stephen Soi, Nock's chief of mission for Rio .

Nock said Keino "may have been quoted out of context".

TOO EARLY TO SAY

It is too early to make a determination on the status of the virus during the Games time which is six months away.

STEPHEN SOI , National Olympic Committee of Kenya's chief of mission for Rio 2016, on the severity of the Zika virus.

Kenyan Sports Minister Hassan Wario said the country had not decided whether to take part after meeting health officials, according to the Daily Nation newspaper.

Kenyan athletes include some of the best middle and long-distance runners, who would likely be among the star performers in Rio. The East African nation topped the medals table at last year's athletics World Championships.

The Rio 2016 organising committee's press office declined to comment on the concerns in Kenya, but said it stood by previous comments. The committee does not believe the potential situation will be sufficiently problematic for athletes to want to avoid competition.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2016, with the headline 'Kenya won't skip Olympics just yet'. Print Edition | Subscribe