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Opinion: We need a vaccine against Olympic and fossil fuel insanity

Both reflect an inability or unwillingness to accept the new realities of, on the one hand, a pandemic and, on the other, a climate crisis.
National Stadium in Tokyo. Trevor Hancock asks why Olympic athletes, or any professional athletes, should get the vaccine before frontline grocery staff. He writes that the Canadian Olympic Committee should re-donate all its donated vaccines to ­essential workers and ­vulnerable ­people and cancel its ­participation in the Games.

Two broad themes this week, both from recent headlines. The first is the insanity of the plans for the Olympic Games, and especially the unethical ­prioritization for COVID-19 immunization of elite Olympic athletes over vulnerable ­people and essential workers in ­low-income countries. The second is a couple of astonishing ideas from the fossil-fuel ­industry and its political ­supporters in the U.S.

What unites them is they both fit into the shake-your-head category of “they are doing what?” Both reflect an inability or unwillingness to accept the new realities of, on the one hand, a pandemic and, on the other, a climate crisis.

Let’s start with the ­Olympics. What is wrong with this sentence, from an article in the Times Colonist on May 7? “Pfizer and BioNTech are donating COVID-19 vaccine doses to inoculate athletes and officials preparing for the Tokyo Games.” Well, where does one begin?

First — Games, what Games? They are holding the Olympic Games a couple of months from now, in the midst of a global ­pandemic? In a country with a vaccination rate of around one per cent, according to another Times Colonist story the next day? A country that has just expanded its state of emergency to cover other regions and extended it until May 31?

When the president of the International Olympic ­Committee (IOC) had to cancel his trip to Japan on Monday because of the surge in cases? When countries such as India, Brazil and who knows where else are essentially out of control? Hello, IOC — wake up and face reality.

Second, they are ­donating these vaccines to the IOC. Donating? Why the heck should vaccines be donated? Does ­anyone know how rich the IOC is? Its own website says the revenue for the four-year cycle of the last Olympiad from 2013 to 2016 (the Sochi Winter Games and the Rio games), was $5.7 billion. So they can afford to buy their own vaccines.

Anyway, if there are enough vaccines that Pfizer and BioNTech can donate them, I can think of a very long list of way more deserving recipients than a lot of fit young elite ­athletes. For starters, front-line and essential workers in low-income ­countries. Whatever else ­Olympic athletes may be, they are not essential workers. Where is the slightest scintilla of morality in all this?

Moreover, why is the ­Canadian Olympic Committee accepting this donation? They may try to dress it up as not jumping the queue, not getting the vaccine ahead of vulnerable and essential workers, because they are donated vaccines, but that is tosh. My local supermarket staff — who are essential — were not getting the vaccine, so I resent Olympic athletes, and for that matter, all professional athletes, getting it before they do. What the COC should do is re-donate all its donated ­vaccines to essential workers and vulnerable people and cancel its participation in the Games.

Turning to my second theme, here are a couple of recent ­jaw-dropping headlines from The Guardian. “Wyoming stands up for coal with threat to sue states that refuse to buy it” (May 7) and “Bill seeks to make Louisiana ‘fossil fuel sanctuary’ in bid against Biden’s climate plans” (May 9).

Let’s think about that for a moment. In Wyoming, the state hopes to take “legal action against other states that opt to power themselves with clean energy such as solar and wind, in order to meet targets to tackle the climate crisis, rather than burn Wyoming’s coal,” while the Louisiana proposal would “ban local and state employees from enforcing ­federal laws and ­regulations that negatively impact petrochemical ­companies,” such as limits on air pollution.

I see endless possibilities here. Perhaps we could sue places that refused to take our old growth lumber or the last of our dwindling salmon stocks. Maybe tobacco states could sue people who give up smoking, thus depriving them of revenue. Or we could establish a whaling sanctuary so we can get rid of those pesky salmon-eating orca.

Oh, and please don’t tell Alberta about Wyoming and Louisiana’s plans, we don’t need the insanity to spread up here. What we really need is a vaccine against such insanity.

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of ­Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

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