Hungary, Serbia inoculate Olympic athletes, ignoring IOC disapproval

Marton Dunai
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Olympic rings are seen near the National Stadium in Tokyo

By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary and Serbia began inoculating their Olympic athletes against COVID-19 on Friday ahead of the Tokyo Summer Games, officials said on Friday, ignoring the International Olympic Committee's disapproval.

The move comes as Europe faces delays in vaccine supplies. The EU warned drug companies on Thursday that it would use all legal means or even block exports unless they agree to deliver shots as promised.

IOC President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday the organisation was not in favour of athletes "jumping the queue" for vaccines.

Some Canadian athletes heading to Tokyo said receiving a vaccine before people in greater need would undermine the meaning of being an Olympian.

The Hungarian and the Serbian inoculations would be up to the athletes, the countries' Olympic committees said.

The Hungarian Olympic Committee (HOC) said 868 athletes were selected for the inoculation drive as they stand a chance to qualify for either the Tokyo Games, postponed from 2020 to this summer, or the Beijing Winter Games to be held in 2022.

Hungary considered two factors, the HOC said. "One is safe participation in qualifiers in foreign countries, the other is a loss of form due to several months' worth of skipped training due to an infection."

Hungary has just completed the vaccinations of medical professionals and begun inoculating the elderly. The general population will begin getting shots next month, premier Viktor Orban said.

The athletes will get shots of the Moderna vaccine in the order of their scheduled training camps and qualification tournaments, the HOC said.

Serbia, where inoculations have progressed steadily with early shipments of Chinese and Russian vaccines, also began giving shots on Friday, the Serbian Olympic Committee and the Sports Ministry said in a statement circulated to the media.

"The vaccination of athletes should not be compulsory but it is desirable so as to ensure the safety and health of athletes as well as of the general population," they said.

Israel's Olympic Committee said it had already vaccinated half its Olympic delegation and would complete the process by the end of May.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Korean athletes should "of course" be given the vaccine if they are going to take part in the Games when asked in an interview with Reuters on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic; editing by John Stonestreet and Nick Macfie)