“Nothing else matters when it comes to playing at the Olympics” is how India’s ace pistol shooter Abhishek Verma summed up the mind of an Olympic-bound athlete in relation to the vaccine.
Ground has been readied in India for a roll-out of the vaccination drive for the priority groups, the first of which will be the healthcare professionals. However, there have been reports about concerns related to some side effects. But the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) refuted those.
“Vaccines are 110 percent safe. Some side effects like mild fever, pain and allergy are common for every vaccine. It (rumours of it causing impotence) is absolute nonsense,” DCGI VG Somani was quoted as saying by ANI.
Possible side effects, though, are hardly a hurdle when it comes to the mindset of India’s Olympic-bound athletes.
“Whatever side effects are there, we have to accept that,” said 10m air pistol shooter Verma while talking to Timesofindia.com.
Verma, who secured an Olympic quota for India with his gold medal at the 2019 ISSF World Cup in Beijing, is currently training under India’s junior pistol coach Jaspal Rana in Bhopal.
Verma has fellow core-group shooters Manu Bhaker, Chinki Sinha, Sunidhi Chauhan and Aishwarya Pratap Singh in Bhopal for company. The entire core group was earlier at a two-month national camp, which concluded on December 15 in Delhi.
The Bhopal stint for Verma and Bhaker is sponsored by Olympic Gold Quest.
“We all are pretty sure that the Olympics will happen,” said Verma. “First thing is that I have to play the Olympics and for that I have to get vaccinated (for Covid-19). Whatever side effects are there, we have to accept that. It will not be safe for our co-athletes, maybe we don’t get entry to the Olympics at all without that. So that is compulsory, which it should be.”
Taking the vaccine may actually not be compulsory, though highly recommended, to participate at the Olympics according to International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach.
During his Tokyo visit last November, Bach had said that taking a vaccine would be a “free decision” for athletes and others involved in the Games, adding that mandatory shots would be “going too far”.
“There are too many issues to consider. This is a question of private health,” the IOC president had said while touring the Olympic Village in Tokyo. “It is a question also of (the) health conditions of each and every person. It’s a question of availability.”
However, he made an “appeal” to athletes and others to be vaccinated, calling it a “sign of respect” for fellow athletes and hosts Japan.
In the Indian context, a parliamentary standing committee on education, women, children, youth and sports has said that the country’s Olympic-bound sportspersons and support staff should get the Covid-19 vaccine on priority.
Vinay Shahasrabudhe led the standing committee in preparing a report titled ‘Preparation for Olympic Games, 2021’, which was submitted to Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on December 24 last year.
(Abhishek during a physical training session – Twitter Photo)
“It’s good that the parliamentary committee gave that suggestion, because if we get vaccinated, we can travel safely and with a free mind,” Verma further said talking to Timesofindia.com, reiterating the fact that he would be ready to accept anything to be at the Olympics.
“Absolutely ready for that (Covid-19 vaccine) because nothing else matters when it comes to playing at the Olympics. We haven’t made it (talks of possible side effects) much of an issue in our minds; we must make sure to take all safety measures,” the shooter from Chandigarh, who took up the sport as a hobby before winning a bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Games, further said.
India’s Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju and Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Narinder Batra had also said that it will be their endeavour to get India’s Olympic athletes vaccinated at the earliest.
“Whether it is the Tokyo Olympics or any big event happening, the preference will be given to Olympic-bound athletes as well as the staff because it is time-bound. Our athletes will be given preference and we will work it out with the Health Ministry,” Rijiju was quoted as saying by PTI.
Batra added that while it remains a priority, it must be ensured that the ingredients of the vaccine don’t have any chemicals that are prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
“We appreciate that the government is thinking about the athletes, but we have to make sure that the vaccines do not have any ingredients that could lead to a failed dope test. The International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency have been in talks with various stakeholders regarding this issue. We will wait for their advice,” Batra had said.
(Abhishek with fellow 10m air pistol ace Saurabh Chaudhary – Facebook Photo)
WADA’s take on that is that the “athletes can be rest assured that in the highly unlikely event that a vaccine causes a possible anti-doping rule violation under the World Anti-Doping Code, WADA’s oversight of any subsequent result management will ensure that vaccines and the principles of anti-doping do not come into conflict.”
Away from all that and with no doubt whatsoever that the athletes have to take the Covid shot, Verma is busy honing his skills in the warmer Bhopal weather, away from the chill his hometown Chandigarh in the north is experiencing at the moment.
“Here (in Bhopal) we have to switch on the air conditioner during the day. We are in half-sleeve T-shirts the entire day.” Verma said.
The core-group shooters will soon be back in Delhi for the selection trials , and the pistol and rifle shooters will have their first brush with international competition after a year at the ISSF World Cup in Delhi in March.
Until then, Verma is happy to be in Bhopal.
“I don’t like winters,” he signed off with a smile.