We'll never ask for athletes to be vaccinated first, says Italian Olympic Committee

FILE PHOTO: Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) President Giovanni Malago attends a news conference at the 134th session of International Olympic Committee (IOC) during which the host city for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games will be decided in Lausanne, Switzerland, June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

(Reuters) - The president of the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) said on Saturday that it will never ask for its athletes to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before others in the country ahead of the Tokyo Summer Games.

Hungary and Serbia began inoculating their Olympic athletes on Friday, while Israel’s Olympic Committee said it had already vaccinated half its Olympic delegation and would complete the process by the end of May.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday the organisation was not in favour of athletes “jumping the queue” for vaccines, a view backed by CONI President Giovanni Malago in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

“We already know there are many countries where national athletes are about to be vaccinated,” he said.

“We will never ask for this and we don’t want it either. An elderly person has their sacred right to be vaccinated before a 20-year-old athlete is.

“The athlete is forced to move around: they don’t participate in gatherings, they go through airports, changing rooms, competitions, contacts, to defend the Italian flag. Politics needs to make this assessment, not sport.”

Shortfalls in COVID-19 vaccine deliveries from U.S. drugmaker Moderna have spread across Europe, as Italy joined France and Switzerland in announcing the company’s shipments for February would miss expectations.

Like many European countries, Italy is now grappling with broad vaccine delays, at least temporarily, as all Western vaccine makers with approved shots - Moderna, Pfizer and its German partner BioNtech, and AstraZeneca -- fall behind their initial delivery targets.

Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Toby Davis