Canadian lawyer and long-standing IOC member Dick Pound said he thinks there would be strong worldwide support in making Olympians more of a priority for COVID-19 vaccinations.
In a phone interview from Montreal, Pound said health-care workers and high-risk individuals should still be at the front of the line.
“Clearly health workers come first and the really vulnerable would be a close second,” Pound said. “Then you start triaging how you would use remaining dosages. And as I say, for the very, very small numbers involved and the very symbolic meaning of a successful Games in this context, my guess – and it’s only a guess – would be that most countries would be very much in favour of it.
“Both from a policy perspective and probably from the perspective of the public as well.”
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin on July 23. The Games were postponed last summer due to the pandemic.
Pound said when it comes to making athletes more of a vaccination priority, he thinks it’s a decision for each country planning to participate at the Games.
“I think everybody would really like there to be a worldwide success in the face of a worldwide pandemic,” he said. “So the Olympics is a wonderful case in point, if it could be made to happen.”
On Wednesday, Tokyo reported a daily record of 1,591 coronavirus cases. The Japanese government is preparing to declare a state of emergency this week to cope with a new wave of infections.
In a statement, Canadian Olympic Committee CEO/secretary-general David Shoemaker said the COC is encouraged to read about positive preliminary results around vaccines and what that means for global recovery.
“Developments regarding a vaccine are being closely monitored, as are the statements from the IOC and the organizing committee,” he said. “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.
“We fully expect front line workers and vulnerable individuals will be the priority and that Team Canada’s access to vaccines will be dependent on a number of considerations, including the laws governing entry to Japan next summer.”
Over the coming weeks, Olympic officials are expected to announce plans about how to get thousands of Olympians and Paralympians into Japan. Hundreds of thousands of fans, media members, judges, officials and broadcasters are also slated to be in Tokyo this summer.
Pound, who said he’s “reasonably confident” the Summer Olympic will be held, estimated that about 11,000 athletes from over 200-plus countries would likely participate in the Games.
“You’re talking about, on average (per nation), 50 vaccinations, which would be a rounding error in almost every country in the world,” Pound told The Canadian Press. “So my guess is the authorities and the population in each country would say like, ‘Yeah if we can find some way to pull off these Games it would be a nice triumph in the face of what’s been a (long) slog. So yeah, let’s do that and see if we can’t make a good thing happen.”’
“But I don’t think the IOC or Japan or anybody can make a worldwide decision on that,” he added. “But I think if you put it out there and position it properly my guess is there’d be overwhelming support for that kind of an initiative.”
Pound said the subject is not so much about “leaping the queue,” but more about how the Games can provide a unique opportunity to send a message of resilience and triumph.
But should Olympians be a priority over others?
“I don’t know if it’s a question of should, so much as could,” Pound said. “The message of a successful Olympic Games and the opportunity to be a part of that success, I think is an important if only symbolic gesture.”
Canadian wrestler Erica Wiebe, who won gold at the 2016 Rio Games, weighed in on the subject on Twitter.
“I want to represent Canada in Tokyo,” she said in a post. “I want to continue to inspire the next generation of young boys and girls. But I need my community to be safe first and that means a measured, risk-based vaccination plan.”