Zika virus? Rio’s filthy water is more of a worry, says Hong Kong’s windsurfing golden girl Lee Lai-shan

Olympic champion windsurfer says the polluted venues for the sailing events at the 2016 Games will pose a major hazard for athletes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 February, 2016, 11:54pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 February, 2016, 11:15am

Hong Kong’s Olympic star Lee Lai-shan said the contaminated waters of Rio de Janeiro aquatic venues would pose a greater threat than the Zika virus to the city’s windsurfers at the Games this summer.

Retired windsurfing queen Lee, who won the first and so far only Games gold medal for Hong Kong at the Atlanta Olympics 20 years ago, said there is potential for medals among the Hong Kong delegation but played down the chances of her young successors in the windsurfing event.

Our biggest hurdle is not mosquito [Zika virus], but the poor water quality. It’s very polluted there. Once you fall sick, you’re done
Lee Lai-shan

“I think it’s time for our years of efforts in nurturing young athletes to pay off. I can tell there are medal contenders in different sports,” said Lee, who yesterday committed herself to her role as a mentor for the Jockey Club Youth Football Leadership Scheme for a third consecutive year .

“But for windsurfers, the chance would be slightly lower than other sports. There are too many uncertainties.

“Our biggest hurdle is not mosquito [Zika virus], but the poor water quality. It’s very polluted there. Once you fall sick, you’re done.”

Last year, an Associated Press investigation revealed dangerously high levels of bacteria at the Olympic aquatic sites in Rio. There were reports of athletes falling sick after training at these venues. Guanabara Bay, for sailing, was among the venues that produced alarming results.

The host nation suffered another blow with the recent Zika virus outbreak. Experts are worried that crowds attending the Games will hasten the virus’ transmission with some even wondering if the Games should still go ahead.

Lee said she was not too worried about the mosquito-borne virus, which could lead to microcephaly – resulting in small heads in the babies of pregnant woman afflicted with the virus.

“If I were an athlete,I would definitely go there.” said Lee, “Athletes train for years and see this as a key goal. We have overcome many obstacles to get there and I think this virus is just another obstacle.Taking precautions to avoid mosquito bites would be enough.”

Hong Kong earned two Olympic berths at the RSX World Championships in Oman last October but the identities of the athletes have yet to be finalised.