Pau Gasol: ‘Zika Is a Much Bigger and More Serious Threat Than We Think’

Houston Rockets' Dwight Howard (left) fouls Chicago Bulls' Pau Gasol during their game at United Center on March 5, 2016

Spanish basketball star Pau Gasol may skip the Rio Summer Olympics over Zika concerns.

“From my conversations with both US and Spanish experts, my conclusion is that Zika is a much bigger and more serious threat than we think,” the two-time Olympic silver medalist writes in El Pais. “We know very little and we aren’t as worried as we should be.”

The Chicago Bulls big told the Associated Press that he may skip the games due to Zika but remains undecided. Golfers Marc Leishman and Vijay Singh cited Zika in opting to stay home. But the winnings in Rio look slim by PGA standards, so financial considerations may play a role as well. Gasol, a six-time NBA All-Star, two-time NBA champion, and past NBA Rookie of the Year, would become the first medalist and household name—at least in households that watch ESPN instead of CNN—to boycott the games specifically over Zika concerns.

Gasol writes:

Our lack of knowledge about the virus is almost total: obviously, we know about the terrible damage it causes to fetuses: the photographs of recently born babies with microcephaly are deeply moving. But that is all the general public knows about it. Few people know that it can lead to the Guillain-Barré syndrome, which provokes temporary paralysis and can be deadly. Few know that it is possible to be infected without showing any symptoms, given that this is the case with four out of five infected people, or that the virus is transmitted sexually, even months after being infected. This has all been documented by the WHO, the CDC, the New England Journal of Medicine and other publications and organizations, none of which leave any doubt about the threat it poses. I would recommend reading the WHO’s website about Zika.

Though major stars such as American soccer players Alex Morgan and Hope Solo express similar concerns, no major athlete expected in Rio has changed summer plans thus far. More than 100 health experts signed a letter last week demanding that the International Olympic Committee change its plans over holding the games in Brazil this summer.

Gasol wonders, “[A]re we taking the precautions that will guarantee the health and safety of fans, athletes and other professionals who will travel to Rio, or are we putting financial concerns above the health of millions of people around the world?”


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