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Dick Pound says giving athletes priority vaccine worth it for Olympics

Canadian IOC member doesn't "think there would be any kind of a public outcry about that"

Tokyo 2020

Canadian Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee, is arguing that Canadian athletes should get the COVID-19 vaccine before this summer’s rescheduled Olympic games—even if that leads to the perception they are “jumping the queue.”

Pound made his comments to Sky News, saying “In Canada where we might have 300 or 400 hundred athletes – to take 300 or 400 vaccines out of several million in order to have Canada represented at an international event of this stature, character and level – I don’t think there would be any kind of a public outcry about that”

The prominent IOC member added that the vaccine approach could differ from country to country:

“It’s a decision for each country to make,” Pound told Sky News on Wednesday. “And there will be people saying they are jumping the queue, but I think that is the most realistic way of it going ahead.”

Canadian Olympic Committee not counting on vaccine

While Pound sees vaccinating athletes as a key aspect of Canada’s approach to the Games, Canadian Olympic Committee CEO and secretary general David Shoemaker told the CBC that the COC isn’t counting on the vaccine. Either way, Shoemaker says, Canadian athletes will be ready to safely compete in Tokyo this summer:

“Developments regarding a vaccine are being closely monitored, as are the statements from the IOC and the Organizing Committee, but they do not change our current preparation for Tokyo 2020 because we cannot assume that vaccines will be widely available, how they will be distributed or when they will be available for Canadian athletes,” Shoemaker stated.

“We will continue to safeguard the health and safety of our athletes, their families, and their communities on the road to Tokyo, and our actions will be guided by our Chief Medical Officer and Canadian public health officials, as we wait for the IOC, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee and the Japanese government to further communicate COVID-19 countermeasures and related requirements.”

Japan committed despite concerns

Pound’s comments come in the same week as Tokyo is facing surging COVID-19 case numbers and the possibility of a renewed state of emergency.

Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s Prime Minister, has publicly restated his support for the Games going ahead as planned. He has said that a successful Games would be “proof that people have overcome the coronavirus.”

While we all wish that to be true, with the Olympics less than 200 days away now the timeline is getting tight.

Should the Games go ahead successfully, the IOC and Tokyo organizers will have to safely bring 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes to Japan. Fans, coaches, support staff and media would all be added on top of this figure if they are allowed to attend.

British Olympic Association takes more tempered approach

Andy Anson, BOA’s chief executive, is taking a more measured approach to the question of athlete vaccinations. He also told Sky he hopes athletes can get vaccinated before the Games, but emphasized that the U.K. has more pressing concerns.

“[Athletes] won’t get priority access now because I think everyone – athletes included – would agree that the priority is the people who need it most; the frontline workers, the elderly, those with health issues and that’s the first wave of vaccination.” Anson said. “But we’ll do that when it’s appropriate and when the government feels it’s appropriate. We will be having conversations with government, but more about when the time is right.”

Despite his caution, Anson is still positive the Tokyo Olympics will still happen as scheduled.

“I’m telling athletes ‘it’s going ahead’,” Anson said in his conversation with Sky. “‘You should train as hard as you possibly can and be in the best possible shape to go out there and be part of this amazing celebration’.”

“Every message is it’s going to happen,” Anson added, “but we’ve got to get through these tough times first.”