Thinking of traveling to Rio for the Olympics and need last-minute accommodations? Perhaps Olympic organizers will consider renting out rooms in the athletes’ village, as there will be more cancellations and vacancies than usual.
Although more than 10,000 athletes from 206 countries are headed to Rio, the list of who’s not going has been growing in recent weeks.
The entire 68-member Russian track and field team has been banned from participating in Rio following revelations of a widespread government-run doping program and deep-rooted culture of cheating. On Thursday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport denied a Russian appeal and upheld the ban by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
With less than two weeks to go until the Aug. 5 Opening Ceremonies, the International Olympic Committee must now decide whether further sanctions will be imposed on Russian athletes in other sports. There is even the possibility they could deny entry to all 387 Russian athletes. The last time Russia was missing from the Olympics was when it boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games in retaliation for the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games.
Meanwhile, more than 20 male golfers, including the top four in the world, are saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to the historic return of their sport to the Olympics after 104 years. Most of them cited concerns over the Zika virus and scheduling issues (which some critics have translated to mean they would rather make money at a PGA Tour event that week than play for free in Rio).
Among those skipping the Games are Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Rory McIroy, who conceded that another reason golfers might not be clamoring to go is that an Olympic gold medal is not the crowning achievement in their sport.
“I’ve said to people I have four Olympic Games [major championships] a year,” McIlroy told reporters. “That’s my pinnacle. That’s what I play for. That’s what I’ll be remembered for.
“Some people argue that it would have been better to send amateurs there, but the whole reason that golf is in the Olympics is because they wanted the best players to go and compete. But unfortunately with where it is this year, people just aren’t comfortable going down there and putting themselves or their family at risk.
“I’d say if the Olympic Games were in most other cities or most other countries in the world this year, you wouldn’t find as many people not wanting to go and participate.
“I don’t think it’s embarrassing for the game because most other athletes dream their whole lives of competing in the Olympics, winning an Olympic gold, and we haven’t. We dream of winning Claret Jugs and we dream of winning green jackets. Whether that makes golf look insular in any way … it’s just the way it is.”
The same can be said for Olympic tennis, where Wimbledon finalist and world No. 7 Milos Raonic of Canada is among a handful of top-20 players backing out of the trip to Rio. Top-ranked Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams will be there competing for gold, but French Open semifinalist Dominic Thiem, No. 16 American John Isner and No. 20 Feliciano Lopez of Spain will not.
They all opted to play in ATP Tour events instead as these tournaments give ranking points and the Olympics do not.
“It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing my withdrawal from participation in the Rio Games,” Raonic said on his Facebook page. He represented his country in London in 2012 and plays on the Canadian Davis Cup team. “After much deliberation with my family and coaches, I am making this decision for a variety of health concerns including the uncertainty around the Zika virus.
“This was a difficult, personal choice and I do not wish for it to impact the decision of any other athlete heading to the Games.”
Simona Halep, ranked No. 5, and eighth-ranked Tomas Berdych echoed Raonic’s fears.
“Family is much too important for me and I can’t risk not being able to have one of my own after my career in tennis is over,” Halep said.
Despite widespread concern, a World Health Organization emergency committee recently declared that there is a “very low risk” of the Zika virus spreading further internationally as a result of the Olympics in Brazil. The WHO said the Zika risk in the Rio area will drop significantly in August because it is during the southern hemisphere’s winter, and mosquitoes are not nearly as active then as they are in the summer.
Nevertheless, some athletes say they don’t want to take any chances. The symptoms of Zika — rash, headaches and joint pain — are not severe, but the little-understood virus has been linked to microcephaly in newborn babies.
U.S. cyclist Tejay van Garderen, whose wife is pregnant, was among the first athletes to bow out.
“Although the risks associated with the Zika virus can be minimal and precautions can be taken, my wife Jessica is pregnant, and I don’t want to risk bringing anything back that could potentially have an effect,” he said.
The U.S. men’s basketball team will also be missing some big names, although none of them blamed Zika — at least not publicly. Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Chris Paul said they need to rest. Russell Westbrook and James Harden cited “unspecified reasons.” Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin are injured.
Even with those players missing, Team USA will be heavily favored to win a third gold medal in a row. The team includes Golden State’s Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green; New York’s Carmelo Anthony; Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving; Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan; Indiana’s Paul George; Dallas’ Harrison Barnes; Chicago’s Jimmy Butler; Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.
And then there’s Spaniard Pau Gasol of the San Antonio Spurs, who was considering skipping the Olympics but instead plans to take an unusual precaution before heading to Rio. He will freeze his sperm to ensure it will not be contaminated by a mosquito. British long jumper Greg Rutherford and U.S. men’s volleyball coach Jordan Speraw are doing the same thing.
“The commitment I have, the love that I have for the game, for my national team, for the Olympic experience and trying to win another Olympic medal for my country — knowing that I don’t have many opportunities left at this point in my career — all of those were factors for me to decide to play,” Gasol said.
“You’ve got to protect yourself and do whatever it takes, and if that involves freezing your sperm, that’s just one of the precautionary actions you can take.”