By Phil Lutton
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) says there is not likely to be any wiggle room for the dates of its long-awaited vaccine program after Swimming Australia (SA) raised the prospect of a delay to ensure its athletes wouldn’t be suffering side effects during the Olympic trials in June.
Athletes will be receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in a series of hubs from May 10, with the second dose set for the end of the month, just over a week before the start of the June 12 trials. SA had been concerned that the hangover from the second dose, which can cause fever, headaches and fatigue, could hamper performances at the crucial meet in Adelaide.
But Tokyo chef de mission Ian Chesterman said the haste required for the rollout would make it difficult to provide sports with bespoke solutions. He said the AOC understood the timing wasn’t ideal for every athlete in every sport but there were constraints in place.
“We have a situation now where we’re working with Aspen Medical, they are experts in rolling out the vaccine. Now it’s about rolling it out as soon as we can, particularly for athletes going away before the Games,” Chesterman said.
“The reality is we are in a very privileged position. We appreciate that, we understand that, we want to get everybody vaccinated as quickly as possible. That’s an enormous challenge. We’ll do everything we can but we can’t offer the perfect solution; there are very few of those.”
Swimming Australia has stringent qualifying times that are below the FINA A qualifying marks for the Games but said it would not relax its standards regardless of the vaccine timetable.
Chesterman also said the AOC remained in discussion with state premiers about quarantine arrangements for returning athletes. He said the AOC was extremely mindful of putting added pressure on the hotel system and was working with a solution, or range of solutions, outside of the arrival caps.
Large numbers of athletes will return from their Tokyo bubble on charter flights, while others and officials will come back on commercial flights, meaning a range of quarantine options were on the table. The AOC has previously said it was exploring the use of resorts or camps like Howard Springs in Darwin.
“We want to come in so we are above the cap, we don’t want to slow the process of people wanting to return into Australia. Everybody recognises that and we want a solution that works for everybody,” Chesterman said.
“It’s just a matter of finding a place, or a number of places at once, where we can operate that for our athletes. It’s more a negotiation with each of the different states. We will bring some charter flights back so there is some flexibility where we land those flights. Other people will be on commercial flights so there is less flexibility where they have to go.
“But we understand everybody needs to go into an over-the-cap solution and we’re still working on what that looks like.”