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Sport officials call for athletes to be vaccinated ahead of Olympics

AC CEO David Bedford is calling it a matter of "national interest"

In the wake of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) second playbook announcement on Wednesday, top officials from Athletics Canada (AC) are calling for all athletes competing in this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games to be vaccinated before heading to Tokyo.

In an interview with CBC Sports, Athletics Canada CEO David Bedford called it a matter of “national interest” to have all athletes and support staff heading to Japan fully vaccinated before leaving the country. He argued that if the government is already expecting most Canadians to be vaccinated by July 1, it only makes sense that we would prioritize these people, who are heading into what he called a “potential petri dish.”

“We’re not asking for something that isn’t happening all over the world. Even Kenya has vaccinated their athletes,” he added. “I would love to see the government come out and say this is in the national interest, these athletes represent all of us, so let’s get this taken care of so everyone is safe and healthy.”

Odaiba Harbor in Tokyo, Japan

Related: More Tokyo Olympics woes

Athletics Canada isn’t the only sport’s body looking for athletes to receive vaccinations.

“It needs to take much more of an urgency because the clock is ticking,” John Atkinson, Swimming Canada’s high performance director, told the CBC. “We have to do everything we can do as a nation to give them the safest experience while representing our country.”

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Japan has many people concerned that the Olympics could turn into a public health disaster, despite the protocols officials will be taking to ensure participant safety. Many countries, including Australia, have already announced they will be vaccinating their athletes ahead of the Games, but David Shoemaker, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, maintains the organization’s original stance that athletes will not be given priority vaccinations.

“We maintain that Canada’s front-line workers and most vulnerable populations should be the priority for vaccinations,” he said. “With the growing numbers of vaccines available to Canadians, we are hopeful that athletes will have access to them prior to Tokyo, which would provide an additional layer of protection to the significant countermeasures that have been put in place.”

The biggest takeaway from Wednesday’s playbook announcement was increased testing, which mandates that athletes must provide two negative COVID-19 tests prior to boarding the plane for Tokyo. While this may help curb the spread of infection somewhat, many are concerned that the incubation period of the virus could render these tests useless. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch explained to the CBC that if an athlete is exposed to the virus, it could be two to five days before they start shedding it. This means they could have two negative tests before leaving Canada, but still test positive upon arrival in Tokyo. He added that vaccinating athletes isn’t a perfect solution, but it is a key way to ensure all 15,000 athletes competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games stay safe.

“Vaccinations for all athletes,” he said. “We’re in the vaccine era. It’s not foolproof, but again this is serious. The variants of concern are more transmissible.”

The Olympics are set to begin on July 23, and as of now, the IOC has maintained they will take place no matter what.