No COVID-19 vaccines priority for Olympic Games athletes, says Fennell

Athletes who will be taking part in this July’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, should not be given preferential treatment as far as the COVID-19 vaccine is concerned, says former Commonwealth Games president Mike Fennell.

In an address to the Rotary Club of Kingston during a virtual meeting, Fennell, who also headed up the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) for over 40 years, said: “The vaccine itself is not an answer, but it can contribute to the safety of people,” and added that the decision should be made by the athletes themselves, though they could be near the back of the line when it came to priority.

The Olympic Games have been pushed back by a full 12 months from last year because of the novel coronavirus pandemic but growing cases of new infections in Japan has seen increasing speculation as to whether it would be safe for the event to go on.

Recently the Japanese Government ordered a state of emergency until February 7 during which time they closed their borders to foreigners.

There has been growing debate, globally, regarding whether the athletes, and some officials who will gather in Tokyo starting late July for the postponed quadrennial Games, should in effect “jump the queue” and get the vaccination before others, with senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials taking varying views on the topic.

IOC President Thomas Bach, who was recently re-elected unopposed, has said vaccinations should be on a voluntary basis only, but his Vice-President Richard “Dick” Pound has been quoted in the international media as speculating about the possibility of the Games going ahead, while saying he thinks “all athletes should be vaccinated as a priority”, in the face of the pandemic.

Locally, current JOA boss Christopher Samuda has urged Jamaican athletes who are hoping to be part of the contingent to the Games to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus if the vaccination is “proven to be good”. He said, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer, it would be in the best interest of the athletes to get all the information from their own personal doctors before deciding to take the jab, and adds that the JOA was standing by ready and willing to help them make the decision, as long as “they would not have any deleterious side effects”.

At Thursday’s meeting, guest speaker Fennell was asked whether it would not be more expedient for the IOC to undertake the cost of making sure that all the major stakeholders got vaccinated to lower the chances of an outbreak during the Games set to run from July 23 to August 8 this year.

“It’s not so much a question of money, but rather a question of priority,” Fennell said. “And the sports people would probably be the last on the list of people to be vaccinated.”

He added, “There is a big debate going on right now as President Bach has said that he cannot put forward any argument for athletes to jump the queue over other people, including older people. But there is even another debate in that as Dick Pound from Canada just said it’s no big deal as most countries would agree to their athletes jumping the queue in their own countries.

“Remember this, even if you have the vaccine you can be a carrier, and also you have other situations where the people that they [the athletes] have to intermingle with, the officials and so on, you are talking about a large number of people.”

The question of taking the vaccine, Fennell said, “has to be a voluntary effort, not everybody agrees to an injection type of vaccines”, and he pointed out that, especially those in the Rotary Club, which has championed the cause of ridding the world of polio, should understand that not everybody would agree to be injected.

“In Rotary we know of two types of anti-polio vaccine, one is oral and one is injected,” Fennell said, “and we had to choose oral as there is universal acceptance that there are people and organisations who are anti-injection; all of these things are things we have to consider.”


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