Photographer: Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

Rio 2016 Signs Insect Repellent Sponsor Amid Zika Concerns

  • Olympic partner OFF! ramps up bug spray output, distribution
  • Zika scare led golfers Day and McIlroy to quit games

Rio 2016’s battle to convince athletes and visitors that the city will be safe from Zika-carrying mosquitoes has led to it signing the Olympics’ first-ever insect repellent partner.

SC Johnson’s OFF! brand, a widely-used repellent in Brazil, will have an official role at the games that begin Aug. 5, with thousands of bottles distributed to athletes, staff and volunteers as part of the agreement, according to a company statement Monday. OFF! began working around the clock last November to guarantee supplies amid the Zika scare and is boosting distribution, especially in Rio where it plans to have products available at every supermarket and pharmacy, said Stephane Reverdy, the company’s Brazil head.

“We’re working twenty-four seven,” Reverdy said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “People come to Rio from very far, they want to enjoy the Olympics, they want to enjoy their time, and don’t want to be bothered by anything.”

QuickTake Zika Virus

Several athletes, including some of the world’s most well-known golfers, have pulled out of the competition citing concerns about Zika, even after the World Health Organization said the risk of catching the virus during Rio’s winter months was low. OFF!’s factory in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, tripled shifts late last year to meet demand.

Rio 2016 organizers have tried to calm concerns about the impact of Zika, saying recently that not a single athlete among the 7,000 who competed in 44 test events has contracted it. Still, Reverdy said mosquitoes can be present even though the event takes place in Rio’s winter when bug populations decline. Rio 2016 will distribute 115,000 bottles of repellent during the event and OFF! will have free samples at venues.

“There is still a risk,” Reverdy said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t find mosquitoes.”

Some top athletes share his cautious approach. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama became the latest in a list of top golfers, including world number one Jason Day and Rory McIlroy, to pull out of the sport’s return to the Olympics after an absence of more than 100 years.

McIlroy, who in the past spoke effusively about participating in the games, pulled out last month citing Zika even after holidaying in Barbados in April, which is rated by the WHO as having the same Zika risk as Rio.

Reassuring athletes and fans is one among a number of worries facing Rio as it enters the final stretch before hosting South America’s first games. The state government is broke and has called for emergency funding to pay outstanding salaries to military police, raising concerns about security at the event.

Another hurdle is the city’s new subway extension, a key piece of infrastructure to transport spectators to the site of the Olympic Park. It has yet to open, and a failure could lead to severe traffic problems. The games will also take place against a backdrop of continued political instability following impeachment proceedings against suspended president Dilma Rousseff and an ongoing graft probe that has brought down top politicians and business leaders.

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