The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has pledged to support National Olympic Committees (NOCs) gain access to COVID-19 vaccines for their athletes prior to Tokyo 2020.
IOC President Thomas Bach told members and NOCs on separate calls this week that the IOC and the World Health Organization (WHO) would help NOCs struggling to obtain the vaccines in the lead-up to the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, two sources with knowledge of the talks told insidethegames.
The IOC has repeatedly said it will not jump the queue ahead of those who need a vaccination most and has insisted it will not be mandatory for athletes to compete at the Games.
But Bach and other IOC officials, including Athletes Commission vice-chair Danka Bartekova, have encouraged athletes to have the vaccine when they are able to do so.
The IOC has stated publicly on several occasions that it hopes to have many foreign participants as possible vaccinated for COVID-19 before Tokyo 2020.
A handful of countries have begun rolling out vaccines in recent weeks, but there is concern that athletes from smaller and less developed nations who are due to compete at Tokyo 2020 will be unable to access them before the Games.
Discussions have taken place between the IOC and the WHO regarding its Covax project, aimed at speeding up the distribution of vaccines in developing countries.
The IOC is hopeful the WHO scheme will enable athletes from developing nations to receive the vaccine in time for the Games, scheduled to open on July 23.
While the IOC and Tokyo 2020 have stressed the vaccine will not be a “silver bullet” for the Games, their development has nonetheless boosted hopes of the Games going ahead.
It forms part of a “toolbox” of countermeasures the IOC and organisers are planning to implement if the Olympics and Paralympics take place as planned.
The IOC and Tokyo 2020 are also working on what they call a “playbook” for the Games to ensure the event can be held safely, featuring rapid testing and vaccines.
Bach’s call with NOCs came hours after British newspaper The Times reported the Japanese Government had privately concluded Tokyo 2020 would be cancelled because of the COVID-19 crisis.
The Japanese Government said there was “absolutely no truth” in the report, while the IOC said it remains committed to the Games taking place “this year” – despite growing fears over a rise in coronavirus cases across the world, thought to be caused by new variants of COVID-19.
Bach told Kyodo News earlier this week there was “no reason whatsoever” to think Tokyo 2020 will not open as scheduled and said the IOC did not have a “plan B” for the Games. – www.insidethegames.biz