Despite pressure to postpone the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics due to the Zika epidemic, the Games are set to go ahead. CLAIRE RENCKEN reports.
In an open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) 150 health experts called for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to be postponed or moved because of the Zika epidemic.
The signatories said the current plans for the Games needed to be revised “in the name of public health”. However, the WHO rejected the idea and said that suspending the Olympics or staging them elsewhere would “not significantly alter” the spread of the virus, which is linked to serious birth defects, such as microcephaly.
In rare cases, the virus can also cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a neurological disease that results in temporary, and sometimes fatal, paralysis.
The experts fear that these defects could spread more rapidly around the world as a result of an influx of Olympic visitors to Rio, which has a high incidence of Zika cases. Naturally, some athletes are uneasy. However, for now at least, the WHO has decreed that the show will go on.
Let’s take a look at a couple of names to look out for at this year’s Paralympics …
Crack Paralympic marksman Von Zeuner Kohne, who was born with spina bifida, will once again be representing South Africa in the Shooting category.
Kohne started pistol shooting as a hobby during the 1990s and participated in the South African Pistol Association competitions against able-bodied people. In 1996 he was introduced to shooting for people with disabilities. Since then he has participated in several international shooting events, representing South Africa at the 2000 and 2004 Paralympic Games in the Sport pistol (25 metres), Air pistol (10 metres) and Free Pistol (50 metres) events.
In preparation for his participation at this year’s Paralympic Games, Kohne recently represented South Africa at various World Cup events, where he has been awarded several medals.
A Paralympic rower to keep an eye on is Sandra Khumalo. In 2005, at the age of 24, Khumalo was injured in a car accident that left her lower body paralysed. Following her accident, Khumalo moved to Durban. In 2008 she took up swimming to improve her upper body strength. She was approached by the Midlands Rowing Club in 2010 and began training with a coach in Pietermaritzburg. She later joined the Durban Rowing Club and was taken to a training camp for the national team.
Khumalo qualified to compete for South Africa at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, held in London. She placed eighth overall. We look forward to seeing what she brings to the table in September.