WHO increasingly worried about Zika, but Olympics OK to go on

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GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization’s chief says the agency is increasingly concerned about the Zika virus, even though it does not recommend canceling or postponing the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in hard-hit Brazil.

“The more we learn about Zika, the more worried we get about it,” Dr. Margaret Chan said in a briefing Tuesday in Geneva, saying she herself would be going to the Rio Games.

Chan noted that although Zika has been around for decades, it is only recently that the virus has been proven to cause severe birth defects and neurological problems — including in newborn children.

She reiterated the U.N. health agency’s advice that pregnant women should not travel to Brazil, which has by far the biggest number of Zika cases.

She said the agency was recommending that both Olympic athletes and travelers to Rio take measures to prevent being bitten by the mosquitoes that spread Zika. Still, she didn’t see a reason why the games — which are expected to draw about 500,000 people to Brazil — should be moved.

“You don’t want to bring a standstill to the world’s movement of people,” Chan said. “This is all about risk assessment and risk management.”

Asked if she agreed with WHO’s Zika response chief Bruce Aylward, who declared earlier this year that Rio will host a “fantastic” Olympic games, Chan said it will be.

“I’m going,” she said.

But Chan did not address the Rio Olympics’ other big health risk — the filthy, virus-laden waters that sailors, rowers and some swimmers will have to navigate.

In February, WHO declared the explosive outbreak of Zika to be a global health emergency and the virus has now spread to nearly 60 countries.

The agency is constantly monitoring its evolution, and could change its advice to travelers depending on how Zika progresses, WHO officials say.

Some experts have called for this year’s Olympics, which run from Aug. 5-21, to be moved or delayed to prevent the avoidable birth of brain-damaged babies. They also warn that the Rio Olympics could spark new Zika outbreaks in other countries and speed up the virus’ international spread.

Chan said Olympic athletes were getting advice from their national medical advisers, singling out Australia as one country that has issued “very positive” guidelines to its Olympic team. Other countries are taking measures such as providing protective clothing, window screens and air conditioning “to minimize the risk,” she said.

Australia’s medical director for the Olympic team said last week that the risk of Zika to athletes was “minimal” and that the last people he had spoken to who had been to Rio recently hadn’t even seen a mosquito. The statement made no mention of the fact that Zika can cause the birth of permanently brain-damaged babies.

Chan was speaking ahead of next week’s World Health Assembly, a crucial WHO annual event that draws more than 3,500 delegates and address six dozen topics — including resistance to antimicrobial drugs, a global shortage of medicines and vaccines and maternal health.

Despite Chan’s concern about the Zika outbreak, not a single session at next week’s meeting is focused on the virus, even though Zika is expected to come up in a number of discussions at the assembly.

MORE: Australian Olympians to receive condoms fighting Zika in Rio

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here with redactions.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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