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Nearly 150 health experts ask WHO to consider moving, delaying Olympics

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LONDON (AP) — Health experts on Friday urged the World Health Organization to consider whether the Rio de Janeiro Olympics should be postponed or moved because of the Zika outbreak.

The 150 experts — including a former White House science adviser — issued an open letter to the U.N. health agency, calling for the Games to be delayed or relocated “in the name of public health.”

The letter cited recent scientific evidence that the Zika virus causes severe birth defects, most notably babies born with abnormally small heads. In adults, it can cause neurological problems, including a rare syndrome that can be fatal or result in temporary paralysis. The authors also noted that despite increased efforts to wipe out the mosquitoes that spread Zika, cases in Rio have gone up rather than down.

Several public health academics have previously warned that having hundreds of thousands of people head to the Aug. 5-21 Games in Brazil will inevitably lead to the births of more brain-damaged babies and speed up the virus’ global spread.

WHO declared the Zika epidemic to be a global emergency in February and in its latest assessment this week, said it “does not see an overall decline in the outbreak.”

“The fire is already burning, but that is not a rationale not to do anything about the Olympics,” said Amir Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa and one of the letter’s authors. “It is not the time now to throw more gasoline onto the fire.”

WHO has already advised pregnant women not to travel to Rio and says other travelers should avoid poor and overcrowded parts of the city. WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said earlier this month that the U.N. health agency is increasingly worried about Zika but stopped short of recommending the Rio Olympics be moved or postponed. Chan, who is not of child-bearing age, noted that she herself would be going to the Games.

Among the letter’s signatories are experts from more than two dozen countries in fields including public health, bioethics and pediatrics. The letter also noted a potential conflict of interest, highlighting the decades-long collaboration between WHO and the International Olympic Committee.

The authors said that partnership “was last affirmed in 2010 at an event where the Director-General of WHO and president of the IOC signed a memorandum of understanding, which is secret because neither has disclosed it.”

They also pointed to a group that WHO established to help cities not only with health advice, but to potentially help them bid for major events including the Olympics.

“WHO cannot credibly assess the public health risks of Zika and the Olympics when it sets neutrality aside,” the letter stated.

WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

In an email to the AP, the IOC said it would “always consult the WHO for guidance and advice on health matters.”

Concerns over Zika have prompted USA Swimming to move its pre-Olympic training camp from Puerto Rico to Atlanta and Major League Baseball also scrapped a series of games that were going to be held in San Juan.

No Olympic Games have ever been moved from their host city due to medical concerns, but in 2003, FIFA decided to switch the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament from China to the United States on short notice due to the threat posed by the respiratory virus SARS.

MORE: WHO increasingly worried about Rio, but Olympics OK to go on

Fallout from Larry Nassar scandal continues with latest resignation

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Michigan State University’s governing body on Thursday accepted interim president John Engler’s resignation , but said it would be effective immediately rather than next week. It’s the latest development stemming from the sexual assault investigation of now-imprisoned gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

Engler took over at the school on a temporary basis after the previous president quit in the wake of fallout from the scandal. The board appointed Satish Udpa as the new interim president. He currently serves as the school’s executive vice president for administration.

Numerous people have been charged, fired or forced out of their jobs during the investigations into the once-renowned sports doctor. He was sentenced to decades in prison after hundreds of girls and women said he sexually molested them under the guise that it was medical treatment, including while he worked for Michigan State and Indiana-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.

Here’s a look at some of the individuals and organizations that have been affected:

MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY

— Lou Anna Simon: The university president and school alumna resigned last January amid growing pressure. She denied any cover-up by the university. The governing board later hired Engler. Heresigned amid fallout from remarks he made about some victims of Nassar.

The school has settled lawsuits totaling $500 million. Simon is charged with two felony and two misdemeanor counts of lying to a police officer in connection with the investigation.

— Mark Hollis: The athletic director called his departure last year a retirement, but he, too, faced pressure to leave.

— Kathie Klages: The former head gymnastics coach resigned in 2017 after she was suspended for defending Nassar over the years. Klages was charged with lying to investigators. If convicted, she could face up to four years in prison. She has denied allegations that former gymnast Larissa Boyce told her that Nassar had abused her in 1997, when Boyce was 16.

— Brooke Lemmen: The former school doctor resigned in 2017 after learning the university was considering firing her because she didn’t disclose that USA Gymnastics was investigating Nassar. A state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs investigation cleared her of any violations in November.

— William Strampel: The former dean of the university’s College of Osteopathic Medicine is awaiting trial after being charged in March amid allegations that he failed to keep Nassar in line, groped female students and stored nude student selfies on his campus computer. Strampel, who has also been named in lawsuits, retired June 30, even as Michigan State was trying to fire him.

— Bob Noto: The university in February announced the departure of its longtime vice president for legal affairs. The school called it a retirement. Noto had been Michigan State’s general counsel since 1995.

USA GYMNASTICS

— Rhonda Faehn: The former senior vice president of the organization was dismissed this month by the University of Michigan after working for just a few days as a coaching consultant for its women’s team. She was fired after an outcry over her hiring. USA Gymnastics parted ways with Faehn as senior vice president in May after she was criticized by Nassar’s victims for not contacting authorities about potential abuse concerns.

— Valeri Liukin: The coordinator of the women’s national team for USA Gymnastics announced in early February that he was stepping down, less than 18 months after taking over for Martha Karolyi. Liukin said that while he wanted to help turn around the program, “the present climate causes me, and more importantly my family, far too much stress, difficulty and uncertainty.”

— USA Gymnastics said last January that its entire board of directors would resign, as requested by the U.S. Olympic Committee. The USOC last month took steps to decertify the gymnastics organization that picks U.S. national teams, and USA Gymnastics filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition last week as it attempts to reach settlements in the dozens of sex-abuse lawsuits it faces and to forestall its potential demise at the hands of the USOC.

— Steve Penny: The former president and CEO of the organization resigned under pressure in March 2017. He was replaced by Kerry Perry, who took over in December 2017. Penny pleaded not guilty in October to a third-degree felony alleging he ordered the removal of documents relating to Nassar from the Karolyi Ranch in Texas.

— Less than a year after being hired as USA Gymnastics’ president and CEO, Perry resigned in September after the USOC questioned her ability to lead the scandal-rocked organization.

— Former California U.S. Rep. Mary Bono was hired in October as the interim president for USA Gymnastics only to resign four day later. Bono said she felt her affiliation with the embattled organization would be a “liability” after a social media post by Bono criticizing Nike and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew widespread scrutiny within the gymnastics community. Six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman also questioned Bono’s association with a law firm that advised the organization on how to handle portions of the Nassar scandal.

— Ron Galimore: The longtime USA Gymnastics chief operating officer resigned in November but denied any wrongdoing in the Nassar scandal. The Indianapolis Star reported in May that an attorney hired by USA Gymnastics directed Galimore to come up with a false excuse to explain Nassar’s absence at major gymnastic events in the summer of 2015. The organization was looking into complaints against Nassar at the time.

TWISTARS GYMNASTICS CLUB

— John Geddert: The owner of the Michigan club was suspended last January by USA Gymnastics and announced his retirement. He was the U.S. women’s coach at the 2012 Olympics. Geddert has said he had “zero knowledge” of Nassar’s crimes.

KAROLYI RANCH

— USA Gymnastics said last January that the Texas ranch where a number of gymnasts said Nassar abused them would no longer serve as the national training center. Owners Martha and Bela Karolyi have since sued the USOC and USA Gymnastics, seeking damages for a canceled sale of the property. They also have been named in lawsuits.

— Debra Van Horn: Texas prosecutors in June filed sexual assault charges against Nassar and Van Horn, a trainer who worked at his side at the Karolyi Ranch and also worked at USA Gymnastics for 30 years. She was charged with second-degree sexual assault of a child. The local prosecutor said Van Horn was charged with “acting as a party” with Nassar.

U.S. OLYMPIC COMMITTEE

— Scott Blackmun: The CEO resigned in February, citing difficulties with prostate cancer and the federation’s need to move forward to deal with the sexual abuse scandal. There had been calls for his departure.

— Alan Ashley: The USOC fired the chief of sport performance last month in the wake of an independent report that said neither he nor Blackmun elevated concerns about the Nassar allegations when they were first reported to them.

 

Reports: Denis Ten’s killers sentenced

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Sochi Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten died on July 19 in his home city of Almaty, Kazakhstan, after being stabbed by robbers attempting to vandalize his car. Ten died after being brought to the hospital for two stab wounds to the femoral artery. He was 25.

Those suspects, reports said Thursday, were sentenced to 18 years in a penal colony.

Arman Kudaibergenov and Nurali Kiyasov, both in their 20s, were found guilty in his death while a woman, Zhanar Tolybayeva, was sentenced to four years for failing to report the event to authorities and withholding information.

Ten’s family has said through their lawyer they believe the murder was pre-planned and Ten may have been lured to that location. So far, nothing in the investigation indicates that.

Ten was a three-time Olympian, most recently finishing 27th in PyeongChang. He also silver and bronze medals at the world championships in 2013 and 2015. He struggled in the lead-up to the 2018 Winter Olympics but wanted to compete because he was of South Korean descent. His great-grandfather fought for South Korean independence and is depicted in a statue in Wonjnu, about 35 miles from PyeongChang.

MORE: Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje debut free dance tribute to Denis Ten

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