Kenya medical doctors are among global experts who have raised concerns over the ethical use of cooling technologies and the possible spread of Covid 19 during the coming Tokyo Olympics.
The issues of contention include; first the expected use of wearable cooling technologies at the Tokyo Olympics where temperatures and humidity may reach levels of concern.
Secondly and separately a consortium of 21 global health organizations has called for a mandatory full vaccination against Covid 19 of all participating athletes, their companions, journalists, and officials or no games at all.
“We believe that the choice is between full immunisation of participants or the Games should not be held at all,” said the group which included KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme – Kilifi.
This call for mandatory vaccination was published on Wednesday (2nd June 2021) in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases. The group says the Games sets the scene for the perfect storm that could trigger the spread of “every conceivable SARS-CoV-2 variant, known or hitherto unknown.”
Separately, last month some 18 global institutions and sports medicine experts had raised concerns over the possibility of high temperatures and humidity during the Tokyo Games.
To contend with the challenges of keeping the athletes cool and also protect them from adverse health events such as heatstroke the Tokyo Games have encouraged the development of wearable technologies that will be tried in the coming games.
But the group contends that these technologies have not been independently verified and or standardized while there is no guarantee they will be accessible to all athletes.
“There is need to assess whether any advantage gained by the use of these technologies is fair within sports and is available to all competing athletes,” the group says in an editorial appearing in the a May issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The experts including Victor Bargoria of Athletics Kenya and Gerald Lwande and James Ombaka of Maseno University, Kenya, says while the use of the technologies is welcome the raised issues need urgent attention.
Already manufacturers have developed new cooling wearables that have the potential to reduce the risk of heatstroke or stop the decline in performance due to hot environments.
The questions are whether such technologies offer same benefits and if they will be available to all athletes; if not will some get unfair advantage over competitors?
“There is concern that the unregulated use of this technology and the lack of rigorous quality control procedures may represent an unfair advantage to some,” says Prof Yannis Pitsiladis of the International Federation of Sports Medicine.
Prof Pitsiladis, the lead author of the editorial, has been involved in trying some of these technologies with Kenyan athletes in Eldoret.
The technologies include pocket air conditioners, neck coolers, wrist coolers, and cooling fabrics and patches among others.
The group says this discussion and necessary action is urgently needed given the threat of rising summer temperatures due to global warming and the coming of the Tokyo Olympics.
By Gatonye Gathura
The editorial is available here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2021-104014