On Sunday night, tennis star Coco Gauff announced that she would not compete at the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19. Gauff revealed her diagnosis on Twitter, writing, "I am so disappointed to share the news that I have tested positive for COVID and won't be able to play in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. It has always been a dream of mine to represent the USA at the Olympics, and I hope there will be many more chances for me to make this come true in the future."
"I want to wish TEAM USA best of luck and a safe games for every Olympian and the entire Olympic family," she concluded, captioning her post with a praying hands emoji and three hearts colored red, white, and blue.
Gauff's positive COVID test comes in the wake of the International Olympics Committee stating that athletes participating in this year's Games aren't required to be vaccinated. Per the IOC’s Tokyo 2020 Playbook, "While we encourage everyone coming to Tokyo to get vaccinated if this is possible in line with the national immunization guidelines of your country, you will not be required to have received a vaccine in order to participate in the Games."
It's a rule that's remained in place — despite the Delta variant surge, and despite Japan's rising case numbers: the country saw 716 new cases over a single weekend earlier in July, up from 534 cases the previous weekend. And, as of Friday, Japan reported nearly 3,500 new viral infections; currently, only 22% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
As the July 23 start date of the Tokyo Olympics draws nearer, this year's games have faced severe backlash — both for a lack of COVID rules and for racially coded penalization of multiple players. Now, as multiple athletes — including an unidentified alternative gymnast on the U.S. women's gymnastics team who tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday — continue to face the threat of an unregulated, spreading virus, there are questions about whether or not the Olympics should continue at all.
"We believe the IOC's determination to proceed with the Olympic Games is not informed by the best scientific evidence," Dr. Annie Sparrow, Dr. Lisa Brosseau, Dr. Robert Harrison, and Dr. Michael Osterholm wrote in an article for the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month. “The playbooks maintain that athletes participate at their own risk, while failing both to distinguish the various levels of risk faced by athletes and to recognize the limitations of measures such as temperature screenings and face coverings."
Without an official vaccine requirement, there are multiple Olympians who intend to compete in Tokyo unvaccinated. U.S. Olympic swimmer Michael Andrew refused his vaccine because he didn't want to risk affecting his performance, according to Axios. "As an athlete on the elite level, everything we do is very calculated," Andrew said. "I didn't want to risk any days out, because there are periods where, if you take the vaccine, you have to deal with some days off." The parents of 17-year-old gymnast Leanne Wong have also refused to let their daughter be vaccinated ahead of being an alternate for Team USA in Tokyo, citing research concerns.
It should be noted, though, that while side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine do exist, there is no proof that it will affect an athlete's ability to perform. And according to Sparrow, Brosseau, Harrison, and Osterholm, the public health threat posed by continuing to hold the Olympics is simply too overwhelming.
"With less than 2 months until the Olympic torch is lit, canceling the Games may be the safest option. [...] The Olympic spirit is unparalleled in its power to inspire and mobilize...For us to connect safely, we believe urgent action is needed for these Olympic Games to proceed."