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of the leading critics of the WHO says he was invited to sit on the emergency committee, only to have his invitation rescinded when he refused to sign a confidentiality clause.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

Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Doctor Pawel Gruenpeter of the hospital in Sosnowiec said Jakobsen suffered injuries to the head and chest but that his condition was stable at the intensive care unit. Jakobsen will need surgery to his face and skull, Gruenpeter told state broadcaster TVP Sport.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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