Tick spells trouble for Olympics

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For animals seemingly made for travel, horses may have trouble getting to the Atlanta Olympics next summer.

Officials of the Atlanta Games, the International Equestrian Federation and the European Union met yesterday to reconcile the fears of the American state of Georgia, of which Atlanta is the capital. Georgian officials are worried about a horse epidemic if European horses compete in the Games.

Following yesterday's fact-finding meeting a decision on how to cope with the issue could be announced in Atlanta either late next week or the week after, according to an American official who attended the conference.

"It has been a productive meeting. We heard all of the concerns and there could be a final decision in a week," said the official, who requested anonymity. He refused to provide details.

The decision could have a major impact on the Olympic equestrian events next Summer. "It's a very difficult issue," said Murielle Faenza, of the International Equestrian Federation.

The problem is equine piroplasmosis - a tick-borne parasitic blood disorder that infects a horse and causes fever, swelling and, often, death. Faenza said some European horses carry the disease, which Georgia has tried to eradicate by banning horses found to carry it. Some Georgia officials oppose lifting the restriction to allow horses testing positive for the disease compete.

One alternative, increasingly unlikely, is to move events scheduled for the Georgia International Horse Park near Conyers in suburban Atlanta from 21 July to 4 Aug next year out of Georgia. Although it seems increasingly unlikely, it was unclear whether the competition would be moved to another venue within the United States or out of the country entirely.

International equestrian officials point out that exceptions to disease bans have been granted in the past and hope a similar solution could be found.

Although the disease used to kill horses in the United States, it has not been a problem for years. An epidemic in Georgia in the 1960s forced authorities to kill many horses to contain the disease. Such memories force Georgia state officials to be especially careful.

Olympic organisers already have streamlined procedures to test horses arriving for the Games. Tests were conducted last summer in Atlanta to make sure incoming horses could be tested as quickly as possible.

There have been similar problems before. For the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, a temporary waiver was approved despite the threat of piroplasmosis. But the more humid Georgia climate is better suited for the ticks that transmit the disease, making that alternative more problematic.

At the 1992 Games in Barcelona, quarantine problems affected the equestrian events. Only once before have local animal control laws forced the equestrian events out of the host country. In 1956, Australian laws forced the competition to held in Stockholm, Sweden.