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Covid-19 vaccine not mandatory for Olympic-bound athletes: IOC chief

Athletes will not be required to take a Covid-19 vaccine to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach said yesterday, adding that mandatory shots would be "going too far".

Bach, who is in Tokyo on a two-day visit to bolster confidence in the pandemic-postponed event, said taking a vaccine would be a "free decision" for athletes and others involved in the Games.

"There are too many issues to consider. This is a question of private health," the IOC president said, during a tour of the Olympic Village.

"It is a question also of (the) health conditions of each and every person. It's a question of availability."

However, the IOC will encourage athletes to be vaccinated whenever possible, because it is better for their health, added Bach, who believes it will also be a demonstration of solidarity with their fellow athletes and the Japanese people.

The postponed Tokyo 2020, which will take place from July 23-Aug 8 next year because of the coronavirus pandemic, is the first Olympics to be rescheduled in peacetime.

More than 11,000 athletes are expected to descend on the Japanese capital, with thousands more coming for the subsequent Paralympics.

Bach and Japanese organisers have sounded a confident note that the event will go ahead - buoyed by recent positive vaccine trials and a successful international gymnastics event in Tokyo this month.

Bach said the organising committee would take "all the necessary precautionary measures, so that athletes can relax and feel safe".

Australian Minister for Health Greg Hunt said yesterday that the IOC had reassured him "they have moved to secure vaccines for all athletes and officials who would be attending from around the world".

But, pressed on whether athletes would be jumping the queue to get any potential vaccine before the Games, Bach was adamant it would not be the case.

"We made it clear from the very beginning that the first priorities are for the nurses, medical doctors and everybody who keeps our society alive, despite the coronavirus crisis," he said.

"These are the people who deserve to be the first ones to be vaccinated." - AFP, REUTERS