World Athletics president Sebastian Coe. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/SHAUN BOTTERILL
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/SHAUN BOTTERILL

Bengaluru — Several countries, including Israel and Denmark, said on Wednesday that they would vaccinate their athletes and staff against Covid-19 ahead of the Tokyo Olympics amid global debate about whether athletes should be given priority access in the rollout.

Global coronavirus cases surpassed 100-million on Wednesday, as countries around the world struggle with new virus variants and vaccine shortfalls.

Israel, which currently leads the world on per capita vaccinations, said it has already inoculated half its Olympic athletes delegation. “By the end of May 2021, all ... will be completely vaccinated against the coronavirus,” a spokesperson from the Israel Olympic Committee said.

Denmark’s chef de mission Soren Simonsen said “about 150 athletes and 200 officials” would get the vaccine. “In Denmark, the government will start vaccinating healthy people in April, so that is the earliest time slot,” he said. “The Danish people should all have a vaccine by about July 1.”

Hungary’s National Olympic Committee also said its athletes would be vaccinated “in a few weeks”.

The Belgian Olympic Committee (BOIC) has asked its government for “400 to 500” vaccines for Olympic athletes and their entourage to travel to the Tokyo Games but insists it is not asking for preferential treatment.

“The intention is not to pre-empt health workers and vulnerable groups, but we want to protect our athletes,” Johan Bellemans, chief physician of the BOIC told Belgium’s Sporza TV. “But we are not asking for preferential treatment ... Obviously, we don’t want our athletes to be at a competitive disadvantage.”

Much of Japan is under a state of emergency due to another wave of Covid-19 infections, but organisers have vowed to press ahead with the Games, which are due to open on July 23 after being postponed for a year because of the pandemic.

No queue jumping

Some countries are hesitant to prioritise athletes over those more in need of the vaccine.

A British Olympic Association representative said they have not spoken to their athletes about vaccinations and their priority remains “vulnerable, elderly and front-line workers”.

The US Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has yet to issue an official policy but its medical chief Jon Finnoff said US athletes will not be jumping any queues to get a shot. However, the USOPC might consider purchasing vaccines when they become available to the public.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has said that though participants will be encouraged to get vaccinated, it will not be mandatory.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has said he is against the concept of compulsory vaccinations and does not like the idea of athletes taking priority ahead of vulnerable people or front-line workers. 



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