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UN: Rio Olympics very unlikely to spread Zika virus

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GENEVA (AP) — There is “a very low risk” that the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympics will accelerate the spread of the Zika virus around the globe, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

After convening a meeting of its independent Zika experts, the U.N. health agency reaffirmed its previous advice that only pregnant women should skip the Aug. 5-21 games in Brazil, the epicenter of the ongoing outbreak.

The explosive spread of the Zika virus was declared a global emergency in February. The disease is largely spread by mosquitoes, but in rare cases can also be transmitted via sex. In most cases, Zika causes only mild symptoms like a fever and rash, but it is also responsible for severe birth defects including babies born with abnormally small heads and a rare neurological syndrome that can cause death or temporary paralysis.

After numerous outsiders raised concerns about whether or not the Rio games should be moved or postponed because of the Zika threat, WHO said the issue would be considered at its Tuesday meeting.

The expert group acknowledged that mass gatherings like the Olympics “can result in the amplification of transmission” but still insisted that “the individual risks in areas of transmission are the same whether or not a mass gathering is conducted.”

Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO director of emergency programs, said that the increase in travel to Rio because of the Olympics would be “very, very marginal.”

“I am not invested in whether or not the Games happen in Brazil or not. I mean, it would be great if they do: I think the Olympic Games are a great thing, and I think the world needs them now more than ever,” Aylward said.

The committee issued various recommendations to Brazilian officials and said authorities should intensify mosquito control measures and “ensure the availability of sufficient insect repellent and condoms for athletes and visitors.”

Last week, Brazil’s new health minister said there was practically “zero” risk that any of the expected 500,000 Olympic visitors would be infected with Zika. Some athletes, journalists and others have expressed reservations about attending the games.

One of the leading critics of the WHO says he was invited to sit on the emergency committee, only to have his invitation rescinded when he refused to sign a confidentiality clause.

Last month, Canadian professor Amir Attaran and more than 200 colleagues wrote an open letter to WHO, accusing it of shirking its responsibilities by not considering whether to recommend delaying or canceling the Rio Olympics. He then received an invitation from WHO to sit on their Zika committee.

But when the agency sent him a number of forms needed for his participation, including one with a clause that deems the committee deliberations to be secret, Attaran refused to sign and struck out that particular clause.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said that because Attaran did not agree to the standard confidentiality form required of all experts, he was not issued a formal invitation and, thus, there was nothing to rescind. Lindmeier said that WHO was unaware of any previous cases of a potential committee member refusing to agree to keep deliberations secret.

Genzebe Dibaba, 1500m world record holder, to miss world championships

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Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world record holder, will miss the world track and field championships that start next week due to a right foot injury, according to her agency.

The Ethiopian Dibaba lowered the 1500m world record to 3:50.07 in 2015, then won the world title a month later. Kenyan Faith Kipyegon relegated her to silver at the Rio Olympics. Dibaba was last in the 12-woman final at the 2017 Worlds, then withdrew from the 5000m at that meet, citing illness.

Dibaba’s absence further opens the door for Americans Shelby Houlihan (second-fastest in the world last year) and Jenny Simpson, the Olympic bronze medalist and 2017 World silver medalist.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan is fastest in the world this year and broke the mile world record on July 12. Hassan has range from 800m through 10,000m, and it’s not guaranteed she will contest the 1500m in Doha starting with the first round Oct. 2.

The event is already lacking Caster Semenya, the two-time Olympic 800m champion who took bronze in her world 1500m debut in 2017. Semenya is excluded from races from 400m through the mile under the IAAF’s new rule capping testosterone in those events.

MORE: U.S. roster for track and field worlds

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How to watch, stream U.S. International Classic on NBC Sports Gold

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The U.S. International Figure Skating Classic gets underway in Salt Lake City, Utah this weekend and NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will be live streaming all of the action.

The event is the third stop of the ISU’s Challenger Series and often serves as a warm-up for Grand Prix events for skaters, which start in October.

The men’s field is headlined by world bronze medalist and 2018 Olympian Vincent Zhou, joined by the 2019 world junior bronze medalist in the ladies’ event, Ting Cui. Reigning U.S. pairs champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc will make their season debut in Salt Lake. And in ice dance, Four Continents gold medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates are slated to compete.

Check out the schedule below (all times Eastern):

Friday, Sept. 19

8:30 p.m.: Pairs’ short program (LINK)

10 p.m.: Men’s short program (LINK)

Saturday, Sept. 20

4:30 p.m.: Rhythm dance (LINK)

6:15 p.m.: Ladies’ short program (LINK)

8:35 p.m.: Pairs’ short program (LINK)

10:30 p.m.: Men’s free skate (LINK)

Sunday, Sept. 21

6:25 p.m.: Free dance (LINK)

8:15 p.m.: Ladies’ free skate (LINK)

MORE: Vincent Zhou to attend Brown University, details new skating situation

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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