Government asked to fast-track Team GB athletes into Covid vaccinations ahead of Tokyo

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Go GB banner in Tokyo – Team GB to pressurise Government into fast-tracking its athletes for vaccination - ROBERT GILHOOLY
Go GB banner in Tokyo – Team GB to pressurise Government into fast-tracking its athletes for vaccination - ROBERT GILHOOLY

Talks have begun over fast-tracking Great Britain’s Olympic team for coronavirus vaccination, after the window elapsed for athletes to be guaranteed both doses before travelling to this summer’s Games.

Telegraph Sport can reveal that the Government has been asked to “shorten” the gap of up to 12 weeks between the first and second dose of the vaccine for all members of Britain’s 375-strong squad.

Many of those athletes will depart for Japan in less than 12 weeks’ time, meaning that without ministerial intervention, they are in danger of doing so having received only one dose. That would increase the risk of them catching Covid-19 during the Games, something that could see five years of taxpayer-funded preparations go to waste. Any athletes who test positive before their event, and those who have come into close contact with them, will not be allowed to compete.

Sir Hugh Robertson, the chairman of the British Olympic Association, said: “The speed and success of the rollout is our greatest ally. It remains our ambition to get our Olympians and Paralympians fully vaccinated before Tokyo and we’re working very closely with Government to bring that about.”

Until now, the BOA has resisted asking for athletes to be prioritised for vaccination amid fears they would be seen to be “jumping the queue”. Under the current timetable, they should receive a first dose before the Games, but face a lottery over when they get the second, amid huge variations in when people are being called to receive it.

The BOA wants the Government effectively to exempt Team GB from these variations by guaranteeing the second dose will be given as close as possible to the first.

That would put the UK in line with Australia, which it was announced this week had prioritised Olympians for vaccination, and its other biggest competitors, including the United States, China, Russia, Canada and Germany. It would also avoid a diplomatic row over failing to inoculate Team GB before they travel to a country struggling to contain Covid-19, many of the citizens of which are against the Games taking place.

Martyn Rooney, Britain’s veteran 400 metres runner, who postponed his retirement plans to compete in Tokyo, said: “I’m desperate to get the vaccination. It’s obviously a bit of a postcode lottery.

“The reason why we haven’t been done as athletes is that they don’t want to be seen to be prioritising young, healthy people. But they also expect us to go to the Olympics and perform to the best of our ability.”

The 34-year-old admitted it would be devastating to be ruled out of the Games through a positive Covid-19 test and said vaccination would help prevent a repeat of the “false positive” fiasco that marred last month’s European Athletics Indoor Championships.

He added of Team GB’s ambassadorial role this summer: “We’re always aware that we are guests in these countries and they’re spending billions of pounds to put on this event. It would be disastrous for them as a nation if their Covid rates go through the roof because they’ve hosted an Olympic Games.

“It would be crazy to send a British team that hasn’t been vaccinated to the full extent.”

Vaccination would not exempt Team GB from regular Covid-19 testing at the Games, something it was announced on Wednesday would take place daily.

It was also confirmed that all participants would be required to record two negative tests before arriving in Japan, that they would not be allowed to use public transport, and that they would be able to eat only in designated areas, such as in their hotel restaurant, venues and their rooms.

And it was revealed they would need to wear masks within venues almost at all times, including during medal ceremonies, and that the BBC and other Olympics rights-holders would be prevented from interviewing athletes immediately after their events for any longer than 90 seconds.

The Tokyo 2020 organising committee, International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government and the International Paralympic Committee said in a joint statement they would “deploy all possible countermeasures and place the highest priority on safety”.

Overseas spectators have been banned from the Games, with a decision on whether to allow the Japanese public to attend to be taken in June, a few weeks before the event begins on July 23.