Paolo Barelli, President of the Italian Swimming Federation and the European Swimming League (LEN), expressed his opinion on the advisability of vaccinating the athletes who will be participating in the upcoming 2020 Olympics.
“The Italian athletes who represent Italy must be protected in view of the Tokyo Olympics. Training hard and running into covid infection in the last months of preparation would be a setback.
Barelli continued to say that he believes Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi “should consider it of national interest to allow athletes to represent the country in full force.
“The Olympics are scheduled for next July and the Italian athletes who represent our country must be protected.
“Training hard and running into COVID-19 infection in the last months of preparation, after the obstacles of a year of the pandemic would be an unfair setback. It would compromise our champions from representing Italy, nullifying years of sacrifice.
“There are a few hundred athletes aspiring to compete in Tokyo. Vaccinating them immediately would give them equal opportunities with those from other countries that are already vaccinating their athletes to protect them from the risk of contagion.”
In Italy, priority for vaccinations is currently being given to healthcare workers, residents and staff of health care residences, and those who are 80 years and older.
On this point, Barelli declares: “The lists of those who are entitled to the vaccine must certainly be respected in order to fully protect those most in need.”
Giovanni Malago, president of the Italian National Olympic Committee, previously said that they would not be asking for priority access to vaccines for athletes.
At least one Italian swimmer, Matteo Rivolta, has been vaccinated, though his priority place was because he is studying medicine and spends lots of time in hospitals, not because he is an athlete.
Italy is only the latest country to recently ask the government to vaccinate Olympic athletes. This week, SwimSwam reported that the British Olympic Association intends to make a similar proposition t0 the British government.
Some countries, including India, the Philippines, Denmark, and Lithuania, have declared that they will vaccinate their athletes and coaches headed to the Tokyo Olympic Games. The Canadian Olympic Committee has also asked the government to vaccinate athletes. Additionally, German swimming legend Michael Gross also wrote an editorial emphasizing the importance of vaccinating Olympic teams. He also stressed the practical difficulty of regularly testing the huge number of athletes and coaches during the Olympics.
Reactions to Barelli’s statements were met with widespread anger from Italians. Frustrated by lockdowns that mean most of the country, with the exception of elite athletes, can’t resume swimming until at least April 6, many were not keen to hear a proposal that elite athletes would cut the line on the vaccine. Those frustrations are joined by those who want to see the highest-risk individuals vaccinated first so that life can resume some sense of normalcy sooner.
Those living in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic have faced some of the strictest and most long-term lockdowns worldwide. That has been a result of the fact that Italy was one of the biggest hotspots in the world outside of China from the early stages of the pandemic.
According to the New York Times, just under 5 million doses of the vaccine have been administered as of March 5, 2021. To date, Italy has recorded roughly 3 million cases of the virus with around 2.45 million recoveries and just under 99,000 deaths, according to Bloomberg.