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B.C. Olympic athlete conflicted as Tokyo Games approach amid pandemic

Last Updated May 20, 2021 at 10:15 am PDT

Olympic racewalker Evan Dunfee. (Submitted by Evan Dunfee)

An Olympic racewalker says he's not sure the Tokyo Games should proceed because of the pandemic

Richmond native says despite concerns, if Tokyo Olympics go ahead, he will take part

Tokyo Olympics organizers face increasing pressure to cancel summer games due to COVID-19

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – While an Olympic racewalker isn’t sure the Tokyo Games should go ahead this summer due to the pandemic, the Richmond native admits he’s willing to take the risk.

Canada’s team has given no indication it plans to pull out from the summer Olympics. Organizers have been facing increased pressure to cancel due to the COVID-19 situation in Japan, particularly Tokyo.

“As an athlete, I would be heartbroken. But as a human, as a person, I totally understand if the plug was pulled,” said Evan Dunfee. “It seems very unlikely that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) will pull the plug. They’re so steadfast in making sure this happens.”

Dunfee, who is now training for his second Olympics, says it’s disturbing vaccine doses, which may be needed more in places like India, have been set aside by Pfizer for healthy athletes.

“The Olympics are going to be a hugely risky petri dish. You want as many people vaccinated as possible, but also, [the Games] could just not happen and then that wouldn’t be an issue. I just grapple with all these sort of different points of view and try to make sense of it,” he told NEWS 1130.

This week, the Tokyo Medical Practitioners’ Association, which represents about 6,000 primary care doctors in the Japanese capital, added its voice to growing calls to stop the Olympics.

In an open letter, the group requested Japanese authorities convince the IOC that hosting the games is too difficult at this time, noting hospitals in the Olympic host city already have their hands full with COVID-19 infections on the rise.

Dunfee says he is getting his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine next week. But he’s worried about getting his booster shot before others who may need it more.

He adds he’s worried about the volunteers in Japan — where immunization rates are low — falling victim to potentially deadly outbreaks at the Games.

“Not even the majority of health care workers. Those numbers are quite alarming. We wouldn’t be thinking of doing anything to the magnitude of the Olympics in Canada if we were saying that we’ve only had two per cent of our population vaccinated. What makes Japan any different?”

Postponing the Games would make it easier to donate vaccine doses to places that are gripped by the coronavirus, Dunfee says.

“It’s not like Pfizer wasn’t operating at 100 per cent. These are doses that could be going to other places and they’re instead going to athletes,” he explained. “Jumping the line — not only do I disagree with it, it turns the people against athletes, even though it’s not the athletes who are making these decisions.”

In a statement to NEWS 1130, the IOC says “the vaccination of athletes, officials and Games stakeholders will be conducted  ‘in accordance with each country’s vaccination guidelines and consistent with local regulations.'”

Quoting a previous release, the IOC adds, “It is important to note that any additional doses delivered by Pfizer and BioNTech will not be taken out of existing programmes, but will be in addition to existing quotas and planned deliveries around the world.'”

“We are inviting the athletes and participating delegations of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games to lead by example and accept the vaccine where and when possible,” IOC President Thomas Bach previously said. “By taking the vaccine, they can send a powerful message that vaccination is not only about personal health, but also about solidarity and consideration of the wellbeing of others in their communities.”

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Canada’s top Olympic doctor, Dr. Mike Wilkinson, said in April he was confident our country’s athletes will be fully vaccinated before leaving for Tokyo.

In an emailed statement, Canadian Olympic Committee CEO and Secretary General David Shoemaker says the team is “mindful of the apprehension caused by the pandemic,” but that it is confident the Olympics will be held safely.

“Furthermore, there has been good news from sporting events in Japan and around the world,” said Shoemaker. “The IOC and Tokyo 2020 reported at a joint meeting on May 19th, 2021 that there have been 430 major sporting events worldwide with a total of 54,000 athletes and that none spread the virus in the host country. The Olympic Playbooks were tested when Japan hosted test events over the past few weeks with more than 700 athletes and 6000 stakeholders from 50 countries, and they worked. Finally, the IOC expects 80% of people living in the Olympic Village to be fully vaccinated.”

He notes that in addition to protocols set out by the IOC and Tokyo organizers, the COC has developed its own set of “complementary set of protocols.”

“These include a drastic reduction in Mission Team size, the elimination of Canada Olympic House, and a node system designed to minimize any unnecessary in-person contact. Our planning now also includes the rollout of Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines that were recently secured by the IOC. We expect Team Canada athletes and support staff to be fully vaccinated before the Games,” he said.

Japan’s prime minister has said the country can host a safe and secure Olympics while following strict protocol. Those thoughts were echoed by Bach Wednesday.

The Tokyo Olympics opening ceremonies are slated for July 23. The Paralympics are set to open on Aug. 24.

A state of emergency in Tokyo and several other Japanese prefectures runs through the end of May.

-With files from Cormac MacSweeney