I’ve been beating the drum for canceling, moving or postponing the Rio Olympics for months, but now I’ve got a large group of experts backing me up.
On Friday a group of more than 100 leading scientists signed a letter demanding that the 2016 Summer Olympics be moved or postponed. The letter claims new findings about the Zika virus make it “unethical” for the games to go ahead as planned.
The letter was addressed to the World Health Organization and called on the WHO to pressure the International Olympic Committee to cancel the games. The letter points out that the Olympics were previously canceled in 1916, 1940 and 1944 and that other major sporting events have been moved because of public health concerns. FIFA famously moved the 2003 Women’s World Cup from China to the United States because of the SARS epidemic.
The letter is spot-on. The money invested in the games does not outweigh the major public health crisis that could erupt as a result of the summer spectacle. As many as 500,000 foreign tourists are expected to pack Rio for the games, and Brazil’s strain of Zika has been the most virulent. The country’s government reports 120,000 “probable” cases of the disease currently.
Those 500,000 tourists aren’t just at risk themselves, they are at risk of taking the disease back to their home countries with them. That could greatly exacerbate the spread of the virus, which has already showed up in 60 countries.
Money is not as important as public health. Given all the other problems with Rio’s lax preparation, major crime issues and political upheaval, there is absolutely no good reason to hold the Summer Olympics in Brazil this summer.
I feel awful for the athletes who have earned the chance to compete this summer, but the health of tens of millions of people around the world cannot be risked so they can compete in a sporting event.
It’s long past time to cancel the Rio Olympics. Doing so will be difficult but it is absolutely the right thing to do.