Britain should move its preparation camp for the Rio Olympic Games outside Brazil to minimise the risk of catching the Zika virus, Jessica Ennis-Hill’s coach said, adding he would not encourage the reigning heptathlon champion to defend her title.
Toni Minichiello was quoted as telling The Times he would speak to British Athletics performance director Neil Black about whether the £1.6 million pound camp could be shifted out of Belo Horizonte.
Zika, widespread in Brazil and linked to birth defects, is causing international alarm after spreading beyond the Americas, in turn prompting concern among sports officials as they prepare for the Games in Rio de Janeiro. China confirmed its first case of the virus yesterday.
The British Olympic Association said it had no intention of changing its plans for the August 5-21 Games.
“The BOA has no higher priority than the safety and health of its athletes and delegation, and based on the information currently available plans for Team GB’s participation in Rio 2016 remain on course,” it said.
Belo Horizonte declared a state of emergency in December due to an infestation of mosquitoes, which can transmit Zika.
“We should be looking at finding a camp that minimises the risk,” Minichiello told the London-based newspaper.
“Coaches have a duty of care and I would not be encouraging an athlete to go anywhere that could have long-term effects.”
Ennis-Hill was the face of the 2012 Games in London.
She sat out 2014, when she gave birth to her son Reggie, before returning to international competition in 2015 to win her second world title. She is currently sidelined with an Achilles injury.
The main concern surrounding Zika is a possible link between the virus and a rise in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head that can result in developmental problems.
The United States Olympic Committee told sports federations this week that athletes and staff concerned for their health should consider not going to the Games.
On Tuesday, the head of Kenya’s Olympics committee said the team might withdraw from Rio because of Zika, though officials later said it was too soon to decide on the impact of the virus.