USOC denies advising athletes to skip Rio Olympics over Zika fears


The United States Olympic Committee has denied telling its sports federations that their athletes and officials should avoid going to Brazil for the Olympic Games if they have concerns about the Zika virus.

There were reports on Monday USOC officials advised federation leaders on a conference call last month that those with fears about the mosquito-borne virus should stay home "if they don't feel comfortable going."

The report cited two people who were on the call, naming USA Fencing president Donald Anthony as one of them.

But the USOC denied the implication in a statement released later on Monday by spokesman Patrick Sandusky, saying the discussions on the call applied only to employees and staff members, not athletes.

"The reports that the USOC has advised U.S. athletes to reconsider competing in Rio due to the Zika virus are 100 percent inaccurate," the statement read. "Team USA looks forward to the Games and we did not, would not and will not prevent athletes from competing for their country should they qualify.

"The inaccurate report cited an internal discussion with U.S. sports leaders pertaining to employees and the potential risks that the CDC has identified with travel to Zika-infected areas."

The World Health Organization last week declared the Zika outbreak a public health emergency, but Rio 2016 officials have been insistent that athletes will not be endangered. Most of the emphasis in educating the public about the disease has focused on pregnant women, who risk having children with birth defects if they are exposed - though the link between Zika and the defects has not been proven by scientists.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach told USA Today last week he was confident Brazilian officials have an appropriate plan in place to deal with the epidemic, which has also affected other countries in Central and South America.

"We're not only in contact with the World Health Organization and the organizing committee, we're also in contact with all our 206 national Olympic committees and have asked them to get in contact with their national health authorities to take any preventive measures there with their teams and also their visitors and spectators," Bach said. "All this together makes us very confident."