British Olympians to remain "patiently" in the UK vaccine queue despite China offer
China have tabled a surprise offer to get all Tokyo 2020 competitors vaccinated – but British athletes are expecting to remain “patiently in line” for a UK jab.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) startled sporting chiefs by announcing funding for the “kind offer” from a nation recently denounced for human rights violations. Beijing’s alleged repression of Muslim Uighurs and accused suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong will almost certainly put off most Western nations from accepting the deal.
Sporting chiefs in Britain appear set to keep faith in the domestic rollout. The British Olympic Association said the offer is “welcome news for the wider Olympic movement”, but Andy Anson, its chief executive, has repeatedly said he would not ask for athletes to be fast-tracked.
Figures within Whitehall are also increasingly confident athletes can be vaccinated without needing to jump the queue due to rapid progress across the UK. “We are waiting in line patiently,” added a senior source at Team GB.
The agreement with China was announced by IOC president Thomas Bach after Telegraph Sport disclosed in January how he had been working with a World Health Organisation-backed Covax project, which is accelerating distribution to developing nations.
The agreement comes amid an ethical debate over prioritising competitors, but the IOC has said athletes would not be fast-tracked over vulnerable groups. China has approved four vaccines, but have at least another eight at the human trial stage, according to the WHO. The offer is likely to be taken up by other nations facing a race against time to ensure they can compete.
With the Games all-but-certain to go ahead, Bach, the re-elected IOC President said: “The IOC has received a kind offer from the Chinese Olympic Committee, the host of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. The offer is to make additional vaccine doses available to participants for Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022. The Chinese Olympic Committee is ready in cooperation with the IOC to make these additional doses available in two ways. Either via collaboration with international partners or directly in the numerous countries where agreements regarding Chinese vaccines are already in place.” The IOC will pay for the additional doses, Bach added.
“This is welcome news for the wider Olympic movement,” the BOA said. “Our position remains that priority should still be with the most vulnerable in our society and that there will come an appropriate time, hopefully ahead of the Olympic Games, when the athletes can be considered for vaccination.”
Lithuania, Hungary, Serbia and Israel are already in the process of vaccinating their Olympic and Paralympic delegations. The IOC repeatedly said it will not jump the queue ahead of those who need a vaccination most and has insisted it will not be mandatory for athletes to compete at the Games.
The chaotic scenes which forced 72 tennis players to isolate ahead of the Australian Open in January added to pressure on organisers to reassure athletes and the Japanese community that the Games are safe. The roll-out of the Covax scheme, led by the WHO and GAVI vaccine alliance, started last month, with 1.8 billion doses distributed to poorer countries this year.
Talks between Covax officials and the IOC have been stepped up since Tokyo organisers said at the end of November that athletes and spectators will be strongly urged to receive the vaccine. The IOC has denied reports that the Games are set to be behind closed doors.