06/03/2016 14:03 EDT | Updated 06/04/2017 01:12 EDT

Smith says Canadian Olympic Committee watching Zika developments closely

The president of the Canadian Olympic Committee said Friday that the organization is watching developments on the Zika virus front "really closely" with the Rio Games just two months away. 

Tricia Smith said that COC chief medical officer Dr. Bob McCormack has interacted with the national sport community on the issue and is handling any questions or concerns Canadian athletes might have about the mosquito-borne virus. Zika has been linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological problems in adults.

"Ultimately it's the athlete's own decision about what they want to do," Smith said from Halifax. "But we're telling them that certainly we're following the World Health Organization recommendations and the Olympic committee medical officer's recommendations. We're really monitoring it on a day-to-day basis."

A group of 150 scientists recently suggested the Olympics should be postponed or moved because of the Zika outbreak. But the WHO said there was no public health justification to call off the Games and the IOC has repeatedly said the Olympics will go ahead.

However, the World Health Organization chief is planning to set a date next week to convene an expert committee to consider whether the Olympics should proceed as planned.

The Zika epidemic was declared a global emergency by the WHO in February. The Games are scheduled for August, when the risk of virus transmission is expected to be lower as it will be the South American winter and there should be fewer mosquitoes.

South African golfer Charl Schwartzel weighed in Friday on his decision to pull out of the Games, saying he and his wife intend to have more children and the risk of Zika is too great.

Smith said the COC has taken a proactive approach with travel risk management techniques for Canadian athletes and will continue to do so.

"Athletes have to take all of this information, all of the facts into consideration and then make their own decision," she said. "But right now we're making sure that we disseminate all the facts that we have. And we believe that the risk can be managed."

The opening ceremonies are set for Aug. 5.

The Canadian team's goal is a top-12 finish in the medal standings. Canada won 18 medals (one gold, five silver, 12 bronze) at the 2012 Games in London.

Also Friday, Smith was nominated to serve as a member of the International Olympic Committee.

She's expected to be formally elected at the IOC session meeting in Rio this August and would serve alongside Canadians Hayley Wickenheiser and Dick Pound.

Smith, 59, was one of eight candidates nominated by the IOC Executive Council. She was named COC president last November.

The Vancouver-based lawyer and businesswoman is a four-time Olympian in rowing. Smith won a silver medal at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.


With files from The Associated Press.


Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.