May 14 2021
TOKYO – Paralympics chief Andrew Parsons said the chances of athletes spreading coronavirus are “really remote” as he attempted to douse Japanese “anger” over the Tokyo Games.
Speaking to AFP, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president said stringent virus countermeasures will keep athletes and the Japanese public safe.
Parsons was speaking just over 100 days before the Paralympics opens on August 24, and with 10 weeks to go before the Olympics start on July 23.
As the Games approach, Japan is battling a fourth virus wave and public opinion remains firmly opposed to hosting them this summer.
“We understand the feeling of uncertainty,” Parsons said in an interview from Brazil.
“And normally when there is uncertainty there is fear, and sometimes fear becomes anger.”
But he said extensive countermeasures, including multiple pre-arrival tests and daily testing in Japan, make the chance of spreading the virus “really remote”.
“We want to provide this feeling of certainty,” he said.
“Because we see that the anger comes from this concept that it’s the Japanese population’s safety versus the Games. I believe they can coexist.”
Olympics organisers say recent test events held with international athletes prove their countermeasures work, and while vaccination will not be a requirement, many athletes are already inoculated.
Parsons said at least 60 percent of Paralympians are currently expected to be vaccinated by the Games, but that figure may rise after organisers struck a deal with Pfizer/BioNTech.
“The last thing that we want to do is jeopardise the Japanese health system at this very moment,” he said, calling for “innovative solutions” to avoid adding pressure.
– ‘Most important Paralympics’ –
Concerns about the burden on overstretched Japanese medical workers have been raised regularly in recent weeks, with a doctors union on Thursday warning it was “impossible” to hold the Games safely during a pandemic.
Regions around Tokyo have also rejected requests that they set aside hospital beds for athletes who may become sick, and a furore erupted over an Olympic request for volunteer nurses, though reports suggest a call for volunteer doctors was oversubscribed.
Games organisers have held a series of test events in recent weeks, with only one virus case detected from more than 700 athletes and over 6,000 related staff.
But some athletes complained that the restrictions were too harsh, with US sprinter Justin Gatlin saying he hoped they would “be just a little more lenient about where we can go” when the Games begin.
Parsons insists that the measures are “proportional”, and ruled out any loosening.
“The number one priority is the health and safety of everyone in the Games. I don’t think we can relax any of those restrictions.”
Another major issue is likely to be protests by athletes, which the International Olympic Committee has already banned.
But Parsons said the IPC was still formulating its stance on the issue.
“It’s a very consistent opinion coming from the athletes. We need to work out the processes and that’s what we’re doing at the moment.”
The Games will be the first in history with overseas fans barred, and a ruling on domestic spectators is expected next month.
But regardless of spectator numbers, Parsons sees this summer’s Games as “the most important Paralympics in history”.
“Persons with disability have been disproportionately affected through the pandemic, and it has highlighted a lot of inequalities,” he said.
“The athletes understand that what they do in the field of play will help put persons with disabilities back into the inclusion agenda.”