Canadian lawyer and vocal IOC member Dick Pound believes Olympians should still be high priority for the COVID-19 vaccine, despite news they won't be required for participation in the Tokyo Games this summer.
While Pound says the first doses need to go to frontline workers and other vulnerable people, hefeels Olympians should be in the conversation when countries sit down to determine who's next.
"Don't forget each country will be sending athletes into practically the epicentre of where COVID began," Pound told The Canadian Press in an interview on Friday. "And think about protecting them the way you would if you were sending diplomats or armed forces."
Pound pointed out that he doesn't believe any Olympic athlete "would say 'Me first,' and push the 98-year-old widow out of the way."
The International Olympic Committee and Japanese government released "Playbooks" earlier this week meant to detail how organizers plan to safely host more than 15,000 athletes amid a global pandemic, and reassure the more than 80 per cent of Japanese residents who said in recent polls the Games should be postponed or cancelled.
The Playbooks confirmed that participants won't need to be vaccinated.
Vaccinating athletes against a virus that has killed more than 20,000 Canadians is a hot-button topic, heightened by the country's sputtering vaccine rollout.
"I don't think there'd be many gold medals handed out for how we've dealt with (the pandemic)," Pound said.
The Canadian Olympic Committee told The Canadian Press that it won't jump the queue, and recognizes front-line workers and the vulnerable must come first. The IOC has said that vaccines are among important counter-measures.
COC chief executive officer David Shoemaker said Canada will send a team to Tokyo regardless, but told The Canadian Press he had relayed the IOC's message about vaccines to Ottawa, "but we asked nothing of the federal government."
Reiterating his support for vaccinating athletes, Pound said Canadians should remember that the team represents them.
"You have a certain amount of pride in how your Olympic team's performance, and if we can minimize that risk, so much the better," Pound said.
The Olympics open July 23 and the Paralympics a month later.
The IOC addressed Olympic athletes and their representatives earlier this week, and president Thomas Bach stressed the huge unknown still looming over the Games.
“At this moment in time, no scientist can predict the health situation in 206 national Olympic committees at the time of the Olympics,” Bach said in a video address, obtained by The Associated Press.
Bach said the IOC was learning new information each day and asked for the athletes' patience.
Canada was a front-runner in the decision to postpone the Olympics to 2021, and the IOC and Japanese officials have insisted that the Games won't be postponed again.
Pound said the insistence on going ahead this summer "emanates from the Japanese.
"They said we can hold the balls in the air for a year. But not longer than that. Because they've got commitments for all the use of the facilities and the Olympic village and all these sort of things," Pound said. "They were able to renegotiate everything for a year, but not longer than that."
The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics were also in the news this week as Thursday marked one year out from the opening ceremonies.
China's reported human rights violations prompted a coalition of 180 human rights groups, including several Canadian organizations, to call for a boycott.
Pound is firmly against a boycott, saying that they don't work. He feels the responsibility to pressure the Chinese government shouldn't fall on athletes and sport.
"I have sympathy for all of the human rights groups. Don't begrudge that. But (a boycott) is pretty parallel to what China's doing, what (human rights groups) are complaining about," Pound said. "In a sense you're going to take away all the rights of Canadian athletes and put them in effective jail for a political purpose that is designed to bring about conduct change."
Sport has a particular role to play in the world, Pound added, and even in troubled times, there's a message that sport can deliver that others can't.
"And if governments are mad at the Chinese, they have all kinds of ways of demonstrating that," Pound said. "There are certainly ways to send a message to China other than destroying the lives and careers of Olympic athletes."
Canada won't participate in a boycott. Shoemaker and Paralympic counterpart Karen O’Neill stressed the ineffectiveness of boycotts earlier this week, as well as the importance of Canada’s participation in Beijing.
Canada joined a U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021.