COVID-19 looms over the Olympics

Will Norway’s athletes be vaccinated in time for the Summer Games?


Photo: Vidar Ruud / NTB
Norwegian Olympic chief sports manager Tore Øvrebø.

Lars Eide & Stian Johnsen

Norwegian track manager Erlend Slokvik says mid-June is the final deadline if Karsten Warholm and other Norwegian stars are to be vaccinated before the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The outlook is bleak. “All the athletes I have talked to hope they will be vaccinated,” Slokvik told NTB, April 29.

At Norwegian Olympic headquarters, chief sports manager Tore Øvrebø reiterated that the athletes should keep their place on the vaccine waiting list.

While several countries have prepared vaccines for their Olympic-ready athletes, the prognosis Norway’s Olympic hopefuls to get their vaccinations is going from bad to worse.

“There is nothing to indicate that will happen,” Slokvik said.

Photo: Fredrik Hagen / NTB
Top sports manager Erlend Slokvik.

Not the focus

 Øvrebo was asked whether any of the athletes have considered staying home.

“That’s a bit in the future, but so far, that is not the focus,” he said. “The focus is on preparing for the Olympics, while we hope to be vaccinated.”

He provided two arguments why the athletes should be vaccinated before the games start on July 23.

“It’s protection for the athletes who will represent Norway to be vaccinated when traveling to a country where you will meet a lot of other people,” said Øvrebø. “We’re also traveling as guests. They (the International Olympic Committee) believe we should be vaccinated. The authorities have also called for this. Our athletes hope for it.”


Slokvik believes if the athletes are to be vaccinated in time for the Olympics that the second vaccine dose must be administered no later than a month before the games begin because of potential side effects.

“Some could get sick and lose days, and maybe weeks,” he said. “Ideally, they should be vaccinated in mid-June.”

Several studies show that one dose can provide up to 85% protection against the coronavirus.

“If we are to receive both doses before the Olympics, the first dose must be given in May,” Slokvik said. “But if we get one dose, it’s better than none, but we wouldn’t be able to receive the second before we leave. If we get one dose, we’ll take it rather than nothing.”

On March 12, NTB reported Norwegian track star Karsten Warholm expressed satisfaction the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had bought vaccines from China to vaccinate athletes. 

On May 6, the IOC came to agreement with Pfizer because the Chinese vaccine had not been approved. Øvrebø and the Olympic leaders said they did not want Norwegian athletes jumping the lines in Norway. 

In February, Øvrebø said “he was ready to send the Norwegian team unvaccinated to the games in Japan if the vaccination effort in Norway had not come far enough to also cover athletes,” a different tone from above. Warholm said he would go to Tokyo no matter what.

On April 28, the Tokyo Olympic Committee announced its coronavirus protocols. All Olympic athletes and their close contacts will be tested every day during the summer games.

Photo: Fredrik Hagen / NTB
Karsten Warholm set himself up for the hurdles at the National Championships in Bergen, Sept. 20, 2020.

Now, the organizers in the Japanese capital have presented new and markedly strengthened infection control measures.

“In principle, participants and all those who have close contact with them should be tested daily to minimize the risk of undetected positive cases of infection,” it says in a statement. Previously, it was communicated that participants had to take virus tests every four days. Now the grip has been tightened sharply.

Strict transportation measures

The official statement further underlines that everyone else who is to be part of the Olympic events must test themselves daily for three days after arrival in Japan. Thereafter, the persons in question will be tested regularly, based on how close they are to the competitors.

Visitors to the Olympics are further instructed to use official transportation organized for the events and to refrain from using public transport. Athletes and others must adhere to their own activity plan submitted to the organizer.

“They must minimize contact involving less than one meter with other participants who have quarantined in Japan for 14 days or more. The same applies to the local population,” the statement said.

It also emphasized that Olympic visitors are expected to eat their meals in a limited number of locations where strict infection control measures are in place.

It is expected that more details about the infection control measures for participants, managers, journalists, and others will come when the organizer’s handbooks are updated.

Spectators in the stands?

The organizer also states that a final decision on whether spectators will be allowed in the stands during the games will not be made until June. It will depend on how serious the infection situation is nationally in Japan.

The decision that foreign spectators would not be allowed during the Olympics was made a while ago. However, the organizers have set themselves a goal of letting in a number of Japanese. Originally, a decision was supposed to be announced in April, but it has now been postponed.

Thus, a final clarification may not be available until just over a month before the Olympics open on July 23. Olympic Director Toshiro Muto says he doubts there will be full stands.

The number of cases of infection has increased in Tokyo and other areas recently. There is talk of a fourth virus wave in the country. A state of emergency was recently declared in the capital.

Photo: Fredrik Hagen / NTB
Norwegian track star Karsten Warholm.

“We are ready to take all necessary measures to minimize the risk and to ensure that the Japanese people feel safe,” said the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, as he held talks with the organizers, April 25.

Pressure on health care

Recently, a survey of the Japanese population showed that seven out of 10 believe the Olympics should either be postponed or canceled. There has also been debate in political circles. The Olympics were already postponed from last year.

“I think it is time to discuss the Olympics,” said the government’s medical adviser Shigeru Omi recently, without mentioning cancellation or postponement directly.

He further pointed out that the pressure on the Japanese health service must be carefully considered when looking at the Olympic plan.

The management of the Olympic organizing committee has repeated several times that it has great faith that the games can be carried out in a safe way.

Less than three months remain until the Olympic flame is lit.

Translated/edited by Michael Kleiner

This article originally appeared in the May 21, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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NTB (Norsk Telegrambyrå), the Norwegian News Agency, is a press agency and wire service that serves most of the largest Norwegian media outlets. The agency is located in Oslo and has bureaus in Brussels, Belgium, and Tromsø in northern Norway