Bioethics Blogs

A Sporting Chance: Had We Been Willing, We Could Have Moved or Delayed the Rio Olympics

by Adam R. Houston, JD, MA, LLM

It looks like the Rio Olympics are indeed going to happen; fingers crossed that all the things that could go wrong – from filthy aquatic venues, to collapsing infrastructure, to threats of terrorism – do not. The most notorious among these concerns has been the risk posed by hundreds of thousands of international visitors from over two hundred countries returning home with the unwanted souvenir of Zika virus, facilitating its global spread. In response, more than two hundred public health experts signed a letter to the World Health Organization, recommending that the Rio games be either postponed or moved to another venue.

One thing largely missing from the subsequent conversation, however, has been the actual feasibility of moving or postponing the Games. Obviously there are numerous vested interests, from the International Olympic Committee to the Brazilian government to a host of corporate sponsors, who are exceedingly reluctant to have their plans disrupted. Being unwilling, however, is not the same as being unable. Unfortunately, starting from the assumption that moving or postponing the Olympics is simply not possible frames the conversation in a way that directs it towards justifying the refusal to act, as opposed to conducting a proper assessment of the risks and benefits of doing so. The purpose of this piece is not to speculate on whether the Olympics should have been moved or delayed, whether for Zika or any other reason, something extensively debated elsewhere. It is to highlight the fact that if the decision had been made to move, postpone, or even cancel the Games, it could have been carried out.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.