French Olympic president says athletes should ‘pass’ ahead of others for vaccinations

Prioritising athletes for vaccination has proved controversial in some countries

 A man takes a photo of the Tokyo Olympic countdown clock indicating the remaining 100 days until the Tokyo Olympic Games opening ceremony. Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA

A man takes a photo of the Tokyo Olympic countdown clock indicating the remaining 100 days until the Tokyo Olympic Games opening ceremony. Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA

 

The French Olympic committee (CNOSF) is confident that all French athletes can be vaccinated against Covid-19 before this year’s Tokyo Olympics, its president said on Wednesday.

“The time has come that we allow the athletes who go to Tokyo to be vaccinated in a timely manner,” Denis Masseglia said at an event marking 100 days to go until the Games.

“The end of April, beginning of May would be the right time. I am optimistic that the athletes will be vaccinated.”

France is, however, not expecting to open vaccination to under-50s before mid-June.

Masseglia explained that the athletes should “pass” ahead of others, only once vaccination is open to the whole population.

France have so far administered just over 11 million shots, hoping to reach the 30-million mark by mid-June.

“We’re almost about to open vaccination to everyone. There is no reason that the athletes going to Tokyo, maybe 500-600, cannot be vaccinated [in due time],” said Masseglia.

On Wednesday, Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the country would vaccinate its Olympic athletes and national soccer team against Covid-19.

Prioritising athletes for vaccination has proved controversial in some countries, especially those that have experienced problems with their vaccination programmes.

“We know that it is very important that in the next month, month and a half, a decision can be made regarding the athletes and that a vaccination plan can be implemented,” said French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu, who will discuss the topic with Health ministry officials and the CNOSF on Friday.

“The athletes must be able to arrive in good health and in full confidence with regard to Covid-19. It is very difficult to test positive before an event. The more we can prevent this from happening, the better. We are working on it. I hope they can be vaccinated.”

While most Japanese residents remain opposed to the Tokyo Games going ahead in 100 days’ time, the International Olympic Committee hopes the mood will shift when people realise how much emphasis has been placed on minimising the risk of Covid-19 infections.

John Coates, the IOC’s chief co-ordinator for Tokyo, also said stories of Japan’s sporting success, such as Hideki Matsuyama’s Masters triumph on Sunday, would boost support for the Games, which were postponed by a year due to the pandemic.

With just over three months to go before the opening ceremony, organisers face a deluge of challenges with the pandemic affecting decisions on everything from athlete safety to spectator numbers to ticket sales as well as local public support for the Olympics.

A Kyodo News poll this week showed more than 70 per cent of people in Japan want the Tokyo Olympics to be cancelled or delayed.

Tokyo on Monday began a month-long period of quasi-emergency measures to blunt a fourth wave of infections and more than 90 per cent of respondents felt anxiety about the resurgence.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said at a ceremony marking 100 days to go on Wednesday that the fight against “an invisible enemy” had been a major ordeal for humanity but that she was determined to make the event a success.

Coates said in a media conference call that there was still time to get the public to back the Olympics and that overcoming a negative perception of the Games was nothing new for the IOC.

“Once these stories start coming out to the public I am very confident public opinion will turn,” Coates said. “Sydney [2000 Olympics] was not looking too good before but once we got to 100 days it turned.”

With some experts concerned Tokyo is on the cusp of an “explosive” jump in Covid-19 cases, Coates was asked whether there were any thoughts of cancelling the Games.

“Definitely not. I know Japanese organisers are not considering cancellation,” he said.

“We continue to receive the fullest support. All of the plans are in a worst case situation and we hope to influence public opinion through safety measures.”

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