WHO head encourages Olympic ‘hope’ as COVID-19 cases rise in athletes’ village

The test for Tokyo Olympic athletes is still positive for COVID-19 by the dozens, U.S. Gymnastics Team left the Olympic Village to the hotel trying to avoid the virus, and the head of the games organizing committee said there can still be a last minute cancellation. Still, the head of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday that the Tokyo Olympics could “inspire” and “bring the world together.”

“I sincerely hope the Tokyo Games are a success,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday. He said it was impossible to wait for a zero case of COVID-19 and that the most important thing would be to isolate people, contact tracing and prevent the virus from spreading.

His optimism about the games runs counter to the Japanese medical community, which has called for the Olympics canceled. COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Japan, and only about a third of medical providers have been vaccinated. Games provide an opportunity for the virus to spread and pose a threat to the health of athletes and people in the community. Still, it is a risk that the WHO seems reasonable to take, although Ghebreyesus said governments should commit to public health measures as the number of cases increases. “If we throw caution into the wind, it blows back into our faces,” he says also said Wednesday.

The WHO has a close relationship with the International Olympic Committee, which goes back decades. The two groups signed the first memorandum of understanding in 1984. They confirmed that the partnership a 2010 the memorandum focused on promoting healthy lifestyles and another was signed in 2020.

Experts were concerned about the relationship ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, which were considered the Zika virus – what the WHO called an international public health emergency – to spread through Brazil. A group of doctors called for games to be postponed or rescheduled and said in an open letter that, in their view, the WHO did not properly assess the risks of the virus. “We are concerned that the WHO is rejecting these options because of a conflict of interest,” the letter read.

WHO’s support for the Tokyo Olympics also creates the appearance of conflict, wrote MacIntosh Ross, assistant professor of sports administration at Western University in Canada, in Discourse. Keeping the stakes during a pandemic is high for people in Japan, but the IOC will benefit financially if they continue, he wrote – and lose billions if they don’t. It is confusing that there is even a suggestion that the WHO’s concerns are not in Tokyo in the first place. Yet Ross adds, “With the IOC and WHO supporting the global mega-event during the pandemic, it’s hard to believe that the well-being of the host country remains a priority.”

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