By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) - Some athletes have already started being vaccinated against COVID-19, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) spokesman told Reuters on Tuesday, ahead of the release of new guidelines that he says will show that Tokyo Games organisers are in a much better position than the public believes.
More than 15,000 competitors are expected at the July 23-Aug.8 Games, postponed from last year because of the pandemic.
With a recent poll suggesting around 80 percent of people in Japan not wanting the Games to be held this summer, and coronavirus cases rising across the world, organisers are battling to prove they can hold the Games safely in Tokyo.
However, organisers are increasingly bullish that the Games will go ahead and have been bolstered by the millions of vaccinations across the world, including for some athletes.
"I know in some countries, they have starting vaccinating Olympians and Paralympians," IPC spokesman Craig Spence told Reuters, without identifying which nations had taken that step.
"There will be many athletes who come to the Games next year who will have been vaccinated before the opening ceremony, which puts us in a much stronger position."
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has said that although participants will be encouraged to get vaccinated, it will not be mandatory.
Many athletes and national bodies have stressed they do not want to "queue-jump" ahead of more vulnerable citizens.
More Paralympians are likely to be vaccinated soon as they may fall within vulnerable categories.
"I have seen British Paralympians being vaccinated – because they are seen as vulnerable members of society – I have seen some athletes, I think in Israel, that have been vaccinated," said Spence.
"We are aware that many Paralympians around the world have either had it, or are in line to get the vaccine in the coming weeks and months."
However, Spence was keen to stress organisers are not relying on the vaccines for a successful staging of the summer showpiece. "We have got to plan for the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is that no athlete attending the Games is vaccinated," he said. "If we can build a plan that delivers the Games with that parameter then we are in a much stronger position."
Organisers are set to announce new guidelines in the coming weeks about how athletes and thousands of others will get safely in and out of Tokyo.
"I think now you will start to see a change of approach from all the stakeholders involved, and we will start communicating this is how we will organise the Games," said Spence.
"I think that is what has been missing, because we have been so busy planning."
Organisers hope they can change the narrative, and stress to concerned athletes and the wider public that factors such as the vaccines, the Games being held in summer, and having more time to plan, mean the event can go ahead.
"I think we are in a much better position than I think the public believes we are," stressed Spence. "It is important now to communicate this to the world, so they realise that we haven’t sat on our hands for the last 10 months. We have actually developed a very robust plan."
The IOC is due to hold an executive board meeting in Switzerland on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant)