No mandatory COVID-19 vaccine for Tokyo Olympics athletes: IOC chief

‘Confident that we can have spectators in the Olympics stadium next year’

olympics rep reuters (File) The giant Olympic rings are seen in the dusk at the waterfront area at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo | Reuters

With the rising tide of good news in terms of a coronavirus vaccine, an important question awaits organisers of the Tokyo 2021 Olympics next summer—should taking a vaccine be made mandatory for athletes and visiters?

For now, the answer seems to be no—though the International Olympic Committee hopes to encourage as many participants and visitors to do so.

Speaking during a tour of the Olympic Village in Tokyo, IOC chief Thomas Bach said imposing a mandatory vaccine would be going “too far”—but athletes would be encouraged to take one as a sign of respect.

“In order to protect the Japanese people and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that as many (people) as possible — Olympic participants and visitors will arrive here (with a) vaccine if by then a vaccine is available,” Bach said. “This makes us all very confident that we can have spectators in the Olympics stadium next year and that spectators will enjoy a safe environment.”

"There are too many issues to consider. This is a question of private health," he said, adding, "It is a question also of (the) health conditions of each and every person. It's a question of availability." However, the IOC will "appeal" to athletes and others to be vaccinated, Bach added, calling it a "sign of respect" for other competitors and the Japanese hosts.

With over 120,000 cases, Japan has emerged relatively well from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a recent surge in the number of cases—with a record number of daily cases nationally—has prompted the country’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to urge citizens take all the necessary precautions.

The Games are set to take place on July 23, 2021. The Olympics have already been postponed by a year—any further delay would be out of the question, Bach had said in May. However, with the full extent of the COVID-19 pandemic now more evident, Tokyo Olympics board member Haruyuki Takahashi in June suggested that another delay could be an option.

The successful run of the 2020 IPL has infused new hopes for sporting events to take place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit without an audience. Last month, Tokyo held a gymnastics event with strict rules, including mandatory quarantine, daily COVID-19 testing and mandatory mask use.

With multiple vaccines in the works, and with both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine showing promise at the moment, another question remains which vaccines would be considered acceptable. The Japanese government recently approved a bill to provide vaccinations for free to all residents. 

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