The British Paralympic Association expects all British athletes travelling to Beijing 2022 to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and has warned the team cannot be “complacent” in dealing with the virus.
Between 20 and 25 ParalympicsGB athletes are forecast to fly to China’s capital for the Winter Games, which run from March 4-13.
Chef de mission Phil Smith, who was deputy to Penny Briscoe for last year’s rescheduled summer Paralympics in Tokyo, anticipates most of the British delegation – around 65 to 70 people in total – will also have received a booster injection prior to departure.
— ParalympicsGB (@ParalympicsGB) January 1, 2022
“It’s not the most straightforward Games to deliver, it’s fair to say,” Smith told the PA news agency.
“But I think the experience that certainly I and others in our team gained in Tokyo in similar circumstances over the summer stands us in pretty good stead for what we have to face in a couple of months’ time.
“It’s definitely reassuring that we got all 226 athletes to Tokyo and none of them missed being on the start line due to Covid.
“It’s obviously a much smaller team that we’re taking to Beijing but the challenge is no smaller and, in terms of where we are in the world today, there are challenges around Covid that continue to exist and we mustn’t be complacent.
“Our expectation is that our entire delegation will be fully vaccinated with two doses and the vast majority will hopefully have had the opportunity to have had the booster as well.”
A five-strong wheelchair curling squad of Gregor Ewan, Hugh Nibloe, David Melrose, Meggan Dawson-Farrell and Charlotte McKenna on Tuesday became ParalympicsGB’s first confirmed participants, with further team announcements to follow.
Logistical preparations for the Games have been further complicated by the staging of the rearranged 2021 World Championships from January 8-23 in Lillehammer, Norway.
Team leader Smith acknowledges holding the two events so close together is not ideal but believes athletes can turn the tight schedule to their advantage.
— ParalympicsGB (@ParalympicsGB) January 4, 2022
“It’s definitely not what anyone would have chosen at this stage, as much from a performance perspective as anything else,” he said.
“But equally, I think it’s a really good opportunity for our athletes to lay down a marker ahead of the Games in Beijing, to test themselves against the world.
“I think everyone probably will come home, or have the opportunity to come home, between the World Championships in Lillehammer and flying out to the Games.
“It’s just about maintaining all of our standards around Covid and hygiene and the rules and restrictions that are in place and making sure that the team travel out safely to Beijing following the World Championships.”
Britain’s best medal return at a Winter Games was 10 from Innsbruck in 1984, while the 17 athletes who travelled to PyeongChang in 2018 won a combined total of seven.
Although targets are yet to be agreed for the forthcoming Games, Smith – who has not visited Beijing since November 2019 due to the ongoing global pandemic – has high expectations.
“One thing I can say with some confidence is that this will be the most competitive ParalympicsGB Winter team ever,” he said.
“We have opportunities in multiple sports, in multiple disciplines and with more athletes than we’ve ever had before to challenge in that medal zone and hopefully create medal moments for the British public to celebrate.”