Irish Paralympic chiefs have confidence in Zika protocols

Ireland’s team leader for the 2016 Paralympics says none of its female athletes or staff has expressed any reservations about travelling to Rio in September, despite growing fears about the Zika virus.

Speaking at Paralympics Ireland’s ‘100 days to Rio’ launch yesterday, Ireland’s chef de mission Denis Toomey admitted that the virus is a concern.

“It is a concern when it infects one in five people and there is a possibility that one could be one of our athletes,” he admitted.

But Toomey said they are doing everything possible to keep their athletes up-to-date with all the latest medical advice on Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that cannot be innoculated against and has been linked with microcephaly and other birth defects.

“Athletes have a choice whether to go or not and, up until now, none of our athletes or support staff have indicated that they don’t want to go,” Toomey said.

He said their chief medical officer Dr Joe Conway is in regular communication with the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health and the Paralympics September 7-18) coincides with Brazil’s winter, which will lower the local mosquito population.

He stressed local organisers are also making significant changes that should help, like introducing air-conditioning to the athletes’ village and removing ponds of stagnant water from the competition zones.

None of the female athletes at yesterday’s launch expressed any serious reservations about Zika with Rio just three months away.

Wicklow hand-cyclist Ciaran Staunton, a silver medallist at the recent UCI Para-Cycling World Road Championships in Belgium said: “I’m not worried about it.

“The information is constantly changing but Joe Conway is finding all the best research and constantly updating us.”

Discus thrower Niamh McCarthy, who won bronze at last year’s World Championships, said: “I’m not worried at all. I was at our familiarisation camp (in Brazil) for eight days last August.“It was around the same time we’ll be going out again and I never even got one bite.

“Obviously, we will still follow all the guidelines we’re getting but, right now, I am concentrating far more on my performance,” she added.

McCarthy, from Carrigaline, has already improved her personal best by a metre this season, recording her latest PB of 24.98m in Paris recently and she has just moved to Dublin to train full-time.

She is expected to be part of the Irish team selected for the upcoming IPC European Track and Fields Championships in Italy next month.

Ireland looks likely to have a squad of 44 in Rio spanning 10 different sports. They will including para-canoeing for the first time and the team will be led by defending double Paralympic track champions, Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop.

Ireland’s target is eight medals, which is only half the number that they won in London four years ago but Toomey stressed this is a different team, competing in very different circumstances from the ‘home Games’ of 2012.

Three of the five athletes who won eight golds last time out – Mark Rohan, Darragh McDonald and Bethan Firth – are no longer involved.

Most of the 44 Rio qualifiers, including the seven-a-side football team (cerebral palsy), are already ensured of their places but will not have them officially confirmed until the team announcement on July 5.

A number of athletes are still chasing the four spots still available in track and field and it is hoped that two more will also make it in triathlon.

Paralympics Ireland made two significant announcements yesterday; an extensive television deal with RTÉ for the duration of the Games plus a new interactive ‘app’ that allows fans to follow the athletes before and during the Games and, to send them direct messages of support.

RTÉ will broadcast a one-hour nightly show anchored by Joanne Cantwell and their analysts will include retired hand-cycling star Rohan, who won double gold in 2012.

RTÉ will also provide four concurrent live streams daily from Brazil and their 30-plus hours of coverage is a seven-fold increase from four years ago.


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