ADELAIDE, Australia -- The chief doctor for Australia's Olympic teams said he intends to warn his nation's basketball players there is a 'small element of risk' if they compete against U.S. Olympic hopeful and AIDS virus carrier Earvin 'Magic' Johnson.
Dr. Brian Sando said any player who felt 'uncomfortable' playing against an HIV-infected person could decide not to play and 'no action will be taken against them.'
'There is a small element of risk involved,' Sando said. 'If we didn't point this out we would not be acting responsibly.'
Sando denied news reports that he had called for a boycott against games in which Johnson plays.
'We know basketball is not strictly a body-contact sport, but lacerations do occur. It would need blood from an infected player to get into an open wound of another player and this risk is very small, indeed. But there is a risk, however minimal, and this could be a risk they don't wish to take,' Sando said.
The Australian Olympic Committee referred the question of HIV- infected competitors to the Medical Commission of the International Olympics Committee, a spokesman said Friday.
'If they accept him as a competitor Australia will play against him', said Perry Crosswhite, the Australian committee's executive director. 'Dr. Sando does not speak for the Australian Olympic Committee.'
In a separate statement issued Friday, Crosswhite said, 'Australia would not, repeat not, boycott any Olympic Games event.'
At U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., spokesman Mike Moran issued a statement saying the organization 'remains solidly behind' Johnson's participation in the Games.
'The physicians that are associated with the U.S.O.C. are unanimous in their view that the risk of transmission of HIV in basketball is zero. ... There has not been one documented case of HIV being transmitted through an athletic contest,' Moran said.
'We anticipate the ultimate decision as to whether Magic Johnson indeed plays for the U.S. in Barcelona will be made between Magic and his physician,' the spokesman said.
Infectious disease experts Dr. Alfred Saah and Michael Johnson of The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore said coming in contact with the blood of an infected person during a sports competition is 'infinitely less likely than the risk faced daily by health care workers.'
'That risk in sports remains unmeasurable even if the person coming in contact has an opening in the skin. In addition, the virus is not contained in sweat. It is present in small amounts in saliva but saliva has been found to be an inhibitor of the virus,' they said.
The deadly acquired immune deficiency syndrome is contracted mainly by an exchange of bodily fluids during sexual activity and unsanitary use of hypodermic needles. Health experts say becoming infected through 'casual' contact is virtually impossible.
Johnson, who retired from the Los Angeles Lakers last year after learning he was infected, says he will remain on the U.S. Olympic team and play this summer at the games in Barcelona, Spain. Johnson also plans to play in the NBA All-Star Game next month.
Local newspapers said several prominent Australian players had expressed concern over the possibility of playing against the 32-year- old Johnson.
'If it was a choice of playing for gold or staying off and playing for silver, I'd take silver,' said center Ray Borner of the Adelaide Boomers. 'I would have thought that in any contact sport anybody HIV- positive would basically not play. It's common sense.
'I've been involved in a lot of games where people have been bleeding,' Borner said. 'Even if they have to leave the court, the initial contact could be enough to get infected. It's a long shot, but it's possible.'
Boomers coach Adrian Hurley said the decision to play against Johnson was 'entirely up to the player to make a responsbile, informed decision.'
Longtime Boomers captain Phil Smyth said: 'As long as medically I'm in no danger from contracting the disease, that's really all I'd be concerned about. If medically they can prove that, then I'd have no problem playing.'
In California, the Los Angeles AIDS project released a statement saying Sando's remarks were another example of uninformed discrimination.
'This recommendation serves only to spread fear and panic, emotions that have been detrimental to the efforts of AIDS educators and those trying to prevent the spread of HIV infection,' the statement said.
Chris Mullin, an All-Star with the Golden State Warriors and a member of the 1992 Olympic basketball team, said he had no fear of playing with Johnson.
'As far as I know, you can't get it that way,' Mullin said. 'I think it's great he's going to be there.'