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Interview

Nations should share vaccines to ensure Olympic safety: IOC member

Dick Pound says committee chief Mori should not have to resign over sexist remark

IOC member Dick Pound thinks nations would want to share their vaccines with others so as to ensure a safe Olympics. (Source photos by Ken Kobayashi and Reuters)

VIENNA -- Countries participating in the Olympics would want to share their vaccine supplies with those without to ensure that the games can take place safely, the longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee told Nikkei in a wide-ranging exclusive interview recently.

Vaccines are key to the Olympics taking place and Dick Pound said that it was in every country's "national interest" to minimize risk. "My guess is that most countries will be willing to share in order to provide assistance to countries that do not have sufficient access to the vaccine," he said.

Although athletes cannot be made to take the jabs, Pound said countries should impress upon them that they "owe it" to teammates, competitors and the public to minimize chances of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it. He also said that participating countries should consider prioritizing Olympic athletes for vaccinations, after medical workers and the elderly.

According to Pound, vaccinated and tested spectators from overseas should be allowed, although he admitted that it was not essential for viewers to attend games.

"I would say it's unlikely that we would have full stadiums," Pound said in view of the pandemic. "There may be some, whether it's 20% or 50%, I don't know the answer, but right now I think it would be too risky to try and have full stadium[s]."

Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, speaks with Nikkei in an exclusive virtual interview.

The decision on spectators will not be made until May or June, when a clearer picture of how the pandemic is unfolding can be gleaned, he said.

Despite Olympic officials' commitment to holding the games this year, the public still remains doubtful. Over 80% of respondents in Nikkei's latest survey said the Tokyo Olympics will have to be either "canceled" or "postponed again."

Pound said he did not think cancellation was an option for now, calling the games "the kind of good news" that the world needs. But he also conceded that the decision will ultimately depend on scientific evidence.

U.S. President Joe Biden echoed those sentiments on Sunday in a radio broadcast, saying that he felt "pain" for the athletes who had trained so hard and hoped the games could take place but the decision must be made on science.

President Biden speaks with U.S. representatives working on COVID-19 legislation at the White House on Feb. 5.   © Reuters

Pound said athletes and spectators will be tested on arrival and will have to stay in their bubbles during their stay. "They're not going to be down in the middle of Tokyo going to bars and restaurants," he said. "They'll stay in the bubble, which most athletes do anyway, prior to their competitions."

The IOC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee last Wednesday released the first edition of their "playbooks" -- and another five or six are on the way -- that outlines rules that all participants, including athletes, must follow to prevent infection including bans on restaurant dining and traveling on public transport. Pound said, "You don't want to be stupid. ... In the circumstances, I think it's not too strict."

With the Tokyo Olympics over five months away, Pound also spoke of the logistical help that organizing committees will offer to athletes who may have trouble getting to Tokyo in light of travel problems caused by the pandemic.

Calling it an "additional challenge," he said: "The IOC will certainly coordinate that [logistics] with the various national Olympic committees to say that, 'Are you having trouble? Has your national airline gone bankrupt or something like that? Can we get you to another center?'"

Pound also suggested that before the games, sport bodies can set up training camps in countries where onward travel to Tokyo will not be a problem to ensure that athletes have time and ability to attend.

Asked about recent remarks by Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee, that were widely taken as sexist, Pound said: "He has recognized that it was not an appropriate comment. He has apologized for it. The IOC has acknowledged that and so the matter is closed as far as we're concerned."

Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, fields a question during a news conference in Tokyo on Feb. 4.   © Reuters

Mori said last week he did not like to attend meetings with women because they spoke too much.

Pound said he did not think Mori should resign, saying, "I would hate to be called upon to resign every time I said something [that] was wrong."

Pound said that the vast majority of sponsors for the 2020 Games have stayed on and the committee has even managed to sign on some new ones. "In the post-pandemic era, sponsors will be looking to align their business with some other community values such as health, such as peace, such as international cooperation and so, there's nothing as effective as communicating those values as the Olympic Games."

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