NZOC chief says some athletes may skip Tokyo Games: Radio NZ

The Olympic rings are illuminated in front of the National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan January 22, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

(Reuters) – Some New Zealand athletes may choose to skip the Tokyo Games this year due to health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Radio New Zealand quoted Kereyn Smith, the head of the country’s Olympic committee (NZOC), as saying on Wednesday.

Though much of Japan is under a state of emergency due to a third wave of COVID-19 infections, organisers have vowed to press ahead with the Games, which are due to open on July 23 after being postponed for a year because of the virus.

Smith said the NZOC was planning for the Games to go ahead but that everyone in its delegation, expected to be around 450 people including more than 200 athletes, would have to decide whether they wanted to travel to Tokyo.

“There’s a lot of people who have to consider their position,” Smith said. “Can it fit into their life? Do they feel safe? Are their family comfortable that they should be doing that?… It’s a big, big commitment.”

The NZOC did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

New Zealand has largely avoided the high numbers of infections and deaths from the virus as seen in many other nations but on Monday reported its first case of COVID-19 in the community in months.

The Pacific nation of more than 5 million people is planning to roll out COVID-19 vaccinations to essential workers by the end of the first quarter but the general public is expected to get doses only by the middle of the year.

The NZOC last week said it would work with the government in its vaccine roll out plans and encourage its Olympic team members to get vaccinated before travelling for the Games.