Stinging criticism: Brazilians taunt US athletes over Zika

Rio de Janeiro, After months of dire predictions from abroad about the mosquito-borne Zika virus, some Brazilian fans are doing some stinging of their own:They're booing US athletes and taunting them over the fears that kept some competitors at home. 

From the beach volleyball arena to the soccer stadium, boisterous Brazilian fans are having fun with what had been one of the biggest concerns heading into South America's first Olympics.

The mockery began during the first game by the US women's soccer team, when veteran goalkeeper Hope Solo was greeted by chants of "Zika! Zika!" every time she touched the ball.

The jeers were heard again Saturday during a 1-0 US victory over France. 

Solo, who irked Brazilians before coming to the Olympics by tweeting a photo of herself wearing a hat with mosquito netting and sporting a giant bottle of bug repellent, might seem an easy target.

Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat didn't stir any controversy, or even make any comments about the virus, in the run-up to their match Sunday in women's volleyball. All the same, the two Olympic newcomers got rousing jeers of "Zika" from fans in bright green and yellow Brazilian jerseys every time they served against Poland.

"Solo has a lot of fans in Brazil and made a very derogative post on social media making fun of the country," said Rodrigo Porto, a 37-year-old engineer.

"Every time she kicks the ball, the whole stadium will scream back Zika at her." 

Porto says he took part in yet another round of Zika-laced taunts Saturday directed toward another American, defending Olympic beach volleyball champion Kerri Walsh Jennings.

"Brazilian fans are loving, but when they are disappointed and want to make fun of someone, they are relentless," he said.

Not every American is getting booed. On Sunday, crowds cheered loudly for gymnast Simone Biles. It would be hard to blame US athletes or foreign tourists for being worried about Zika, which can cause birth defects in babies born to mothers who have been infected.

In May, 150 health experts from several countries posted a letter to the World Health Organization calling for the games to be postponed or moved until more about the disease is known. That call came despite the fact that the Olympics are taking place in the Southern Hemisphere's winter, which usually decimates the mosquito population.

The WHO has warned for months of a very low risk of Zika spreading during the Rio Olympics. In addition to the low temperatures -- August is Rio's second-coldest month with average daytime highs of 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) -- many in Rio have developed immunities after living with the virus for about a year.

PTI