| New Delhi |
December 15, 2020 7:50:41 pm
Even as the government considers giving India’s Olympic-bound athletes earlier access to a Covid-19 vaccine, the process might not be so straightforward because of strict anti-doping rules.
Sportspersons do not feature in the first shortlist of people who will get the vaccine before others. However, sports minister Kiren Rijiju has said athletes in contention for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, along with their support staff, would be placed in the priority list for Covid-19 immunisation.
“Whether it is Tokyo Olympics or any big event happening, the preference will be given to Olympic-bound athletes as well as the (support) staff, because it is time-bound. Our athletes will be given preference and we will work it out with the Health Ministry,” Rijiju was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.
Athletes and coaches have said a vaccine will be necessary to get their preparations back on track. “Wrestling is a contact sport so there is a risk for us at all times. Already, a lot of my teammates have been infected. So I feel a vaccine will be very important, especially because the Olympics are just around the corner,” two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar said.
A coach said a vaccine would help his players train and travel in groups without the fear of getting infected. “It will make a lot of things convenient for us. Most of all, we will be able to travel to different cities and countries for our preparation without fear of contracting the disease.”
But the country’s top sports administrators have expressed caution. Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Narinder Batra said they will first wait for advice from the world Olympic and anti-doping bodies to make sure an athlete does not fail a dope test and consequently miss the Games.
“We appreciate that the government is thinking about the athletes but we have to make sure that the vaccines do not have any ingredients that could lead to a failed dope test. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) are in talks with various stakeholders regarding this issue. We will wait for their advice,” Batra said.
WADA has prohibited athletes from consuming hundreds of substances, which could impact their performance, in and out of competition. If the rule is violated, a first-time offender can be banned for up to four years.
The anti-doping body said they are in talks with different vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer, to understand the composition. “WADA has a memorandum of understanding with various pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, as well as that industry’s representative body, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations,” WADA said in a statement.
It added: “WADA is in communication with them on this matter in order to ascertain the exact composition of the various vaccines currently being made available. WADA will continue to communicate with athletes and other stakeholders as relevant information becomes available.”
The IOC has said athletes will not be ‘forced’ to take Covid-19 vaccines for the Olympics but recommended they should do so as a ‘demonstration of solidarity’. It has, however, affirmed athletes will not jump the queue and that ‘nurses, medical doctors and everybody who keeps our society alive’ will be the first priority.
More than 11,000 athletes are expected to take part in the Tokyo Olympics, apart from thousands of coaches, administrators, fans and media. The Games, which were to take place this year, were postponed because of the pandemic and will now take place from July 23 to August 9, 2021.
Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh said it would also be important to understand the side-effects of a vaccine before an athlete gets it. “We will have to plan it well, check what are the side-effects and for how long the athlete will have to stay out of action,” Sharan, a BJP MP, said. “We will wait to see what system the government develops. But if a situation arises where the athlete has to get a shot, I am confident we will manage it.”
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