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‘Crunch time’: Australian Olympians nervously await Covid-19 vaccine | Tokyo Olympic Games 2020

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Time is ticking as the Australian Olympic Committee waits for guidance on when its 1400-strong Tokyo Games travelling party will receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

Australia is set to send approximately 450-480 athletes to the 2021 Olympics, with almost 1000 support staff and officials likely to also make the trip to Japan.

Some members of the Olympic contingent have already been vaccinated against Covid-19 because of their jobs, but the vast majority are yet to be jabbed.

The rescheduled Tokyo Games start on July 23, with the AOC marking 100 days to go with Wednesday’s announcement of live sites at Sydney’s Circular Quay and other locations.

However, numerous Australian athletes are aiming to compete around the world in key warm-up events prior to flying to Japan for the Olympics.

The AOC has repeatedly made it clear it does not wish to jump the queue, but the slow pace of Australia’s rollout suggests that may need to happen if every athlete and official is to be vaccinated as planned.

“We’re in discussion with minister [Greg] Hunt’s office on a weekly basis,” AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said. “We weren’t expecting athletes or officials to be vaccinated at this time, so we’re not frustrated. Crunch time starts to hit next month, because athletes will start to go overseas. The government is well aware of that.

“I could have clarity [on Thursday]. The governments – federal and state – have a lot on their plate at the moment … we’re working with the government as to how their programs roll out, where they will classify athletes and officials. We’re quite confident.”

Jess Fox and Edward Fernon
Fox and modern pentathlete Edward Fernon at the 100 days to Tokyo event. Photograph: Hanna Lassen/Getty Images

Carroll added the Games had been “designed to be held without a vaccination, vaccination is a bonus”.

The United States headlines the list of nations aiming to vaccinate their entire Olympic team before the Games, while Carroll revealed Australia has been working with Pacific Island countries to try to ensure their Olympians are also vaccinated.

Aside from the obvious upside, vaccines would remove a degree of stress for Olympians attempting to perform at their highest level during a unique Games.

“I definitely would like the vaccine, it’ll make me feel safer and more comfortable,” paddler Jess Fox, one of Australia’s leading medal hopes at the Games, told AAP.

“Especially if I have to go to Europe for competitions in June. Whether or not we have it, we’re still going to be extremely cautious and follow protocols. The important thing is not having Covid, because otherwise you can’t compete.”

Olympians risk being barred from competition if they contract Covid-19, while even being a close contact of a confirmed case could ruin five years of hard work.

“Introverts are going to be the winners here. We’re going to spend a lot of time in our rooms, so being able to distract yourself and switch off in your room will be important,” Fox said.

New Zealand started administering vaccinations to its more than 200 athletes on Wednesday, said New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith.

“We’re really satisfied the government was able to put us in that category of national significance, so that’s now under way and athletes have been worked through according to when they might be departing,” Smith said.

“Some are still qualifying and some still have events and activities to prepare, so over the next few months we will see that gradually rolling out.”

The New Zealand government said last month it would allow athletes to jump the queue in the country’s vaccine roll-out to allow them to participate in events of “national significance”.

New Zealand has been one of the most successful countries at containing the virus and started the second round of its vaccine roll-out for border and quarantine workers last month.

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