Athletes refusing to have the Covid jab shouldn’t compete at the Olympics

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People walking past the Olympic rings in Tokyo. The Japanese public has generally been opposed to the Games, partly over fears that coronavirus levels will spike as about 100,000 people enter the country (AP)
People walking past the Olympic rings in Tokyo. The Japanese public has generally been opposed to the Games, partly over fears that coronavirus levels will spike as about 100,000 people enter the country (AP)

Perhaps this year’s Olympics should be renamed the Ambivalent Games.

That is a rather charitable way to characterise how the Japanese people seem to feel about playing host to an international sporting festival in the middle of a pandemic. Justifiably so. Given the way cases are rising in the UK, I think I’d feel the same way if we were talking about London.

Their concern seems to extend all the way up to the Chrysanthemum throne, which usually maintains as delphic a silence about this sort of thing as the Queen does in this country.

“The emperor is extremely worried about the current status of coronavirus infections. Given the public’s worries, he appears to me to be concerned about whether the Olympics and Paralympics event, for which he is honorary patron, would cause infections to spread,” was the carefully phrased statement made by the grand steward for the Imperial Household Agency, Yasuhiko Nishimura, at a news conference.

Japan has managed to keep itself clear of the sort of volcanic outbreak that the UK and others have experienced. But its medical system has still been stretched in places, and the vaccine rollout has been slow.

Those “concerns” are understandable because there is clearly a potential problem in bringing athletes from every nation in the world together and clustering them in a small space, even if you bar foreign spectators (as Japan has).

For starters, 11,000 of them will be sharing just one dining hall, a point made by Andy Anson, the head of the British Olympic Association.

All that being the case, it’s on those athletes to do their part to ensure that the concerns of their hosts aren’t realised. If they have access to the vaccination, they should take it.

British athletes are in that position, but there’s a problem. Anson says that while “well over 90 per cent” of his team will have had two shots by the time the games get under way, a hardcore contingent still “don’t want to be vaccinated”.

I know the “Olympic ideal” is rather frayed. But those people are defying it in the same way as the dopers.

First off, they are needlessly putting their fellow athletes at risk from a potentially deadly virus. While the young and the fit are least at risk, there will inevitably be some in the Olympic village in greater danger through their medical histories.

Covid can also have a severely detrimental impact on athletic performance. The experience of some footballers, infected last year, speaks to that.

An outbreak could also prevent some people from competing in events they’d spent years training for, putting them in the same position as Billy Gilmour, the unfortunate Scotland midfielder who missed the match with England through a positive result.

Let’s not forget the responsibility the athletes also have towards their hosts, who will no doubt be unstintingly courteous regardless of the private feelings they may have about the event.

Given all that, should those unvaccinated athletes even be on the team?

Persuasion is always, always better than serving people with ultimatums.

On the other hand, these people aren’t in the same position as minimum wage workers who may have good reason to mistrust the government and/or other official bodies.

They occupy a privileged position. They usually have access to first-rate medical care and information.

I have no doubt that Anson could arrange for them to sit down with epidemiologists and doctors who would be perfectly capable of addressing any concerns they might have picked up from conspiracy mongers on Facebook, or anywhere else.

He could probably even arrange for them to speak with, say, Dr Sarah Gilbert and other members of the team that designed the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab that I’ve had.

Even if that fails, they still won’t be forced to have shots.

Nor is anyone proposing to force them to get on the plane.

You see what I’m getting at?

Tokyo 2021 may be the Ambivalent Olympics, but it’s still the Olympics. There isn’t going to be any shortage of fully vaccinated athletes willing to take their place.

Being able to compete in the games is something that only a few tens of thousands of people around the world will ever get the chance to experience.

If you’re not willing to have the jab, you shouldn’t get that privilege when there are plenty of others willing to “inspire a generation” by doing the right thing.

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