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15 Nov, 2021 20:45

‘I am deeply ashamed of our country’: Austria’s greatest Olympian quits political role as lockdown for unvaccinated comes in

‘I am deeply ashamed of our country’: Austria’s greatest Olympian quits political role as lockdown for unvaccinated comes in

Austria's most successful Olympian, Felix Gottwald, has accused the government of discriminating and dividing by introducing a strict lockdown for the unvaccinated, causing the country's Sports Minister to defend the measures.

Around two million Austrians who have not yet received their Covid vaccinations have been subject to the ten-day measures, which have been implemented as their country faces a rise in cases and strains on its public health system. 

They have received permission to leave their homes only for work or food shopping, with police carrying out spot checks across public spaces to determine vaccination status and dishing out fines ranging from €500 ($572) to €1,450 ($1,650) for anyone caught breaching protocol or refusing to comply.

"We are not taking this step lightly but unfortunately it is necessary," said Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg.

In an open letter voicing his disgust at the move, three-time Olympic and triple world champion Gottwald has resigned from his role as chairman for popular sports while denouncing "division, agitation, [and] discrimination", which he claims are "the government imperatives of the hour".

"After nine official months in this function, I can say that there may be a lot going on in our country, but certainly not about the health and well-being of Austrians and the people living in Austria – and that in the midst of the greatest health crisis," the Nordic combined all-time great said.

"I am deeply ashamed of our country and, as an Austrian, I am angry, sad and stunned at the same time."

A self-professed "healthy person who uses sensible and sensible measures to contain the pandemic very responsibly", Gottwald took aim at the Minister of Sports, Werner Kogler, and said that he "would have the power to set levers in motion that promote, rather than prevent, exercise and (popular) sport in what is probably the greatest health crisis of our time", with the unvaccinated unable to partake in such activities.

"As an athlete, I have learned to deal with defeat and failure, to learn from them, to develop myself further and to treat myself and others with respect and dignity. I am currently missing these virtues entirely on the part of politics," he stated.

As Gottwald thanked party members and the Bundes-Sport GmbH organization which he was a part of, he admitted that he accepted that he had "failed" in his duties and felt unable to "continue as if I wasn't aware of the unsportsmanlike and unhealthy developments surrounding this pandemic", which he said "is not an option for me."

Amid protests in Austria, Kogler has responded by calling Gottwald's resignation "regrettable" and defending the government's decision.

"As a member of the commission for mass sport, he tried to contribute to the development of a real movement culture in Austria. I really appreciate his commitment in this area," said Kogler.

"In his letter, Felix Gottwald gave his opinion on the measures taken by the Federal Government and the Ministry of Health. I would like to say the following about this: our mission, as a politician, is to protect the population.

"The dramatic increase in the number of cases and incidences, especially among unvaccinated people, as well as the heavily strained hospital capacities, prompted the federal government, together with the provincial governors, to adopt far-reaching measures to cope with the pandemic.

"However, these measures also enable a large part of the Austrian population to continue to do sports in sports clubs: this applies to children and young people up to the end of compulsory schooling as well as all those who have decided to have a vaccination or have recovered.

"All those who do not want to be vaccinated can and of course do [play] sports. For the time being, however, they will stay within their own four walls or in public spaces, at a distance from others, so that the risk of infection for themselves and others is minimized.

"The pandemic is far from over. It is now crucial that as many people as possible get vaccinated. In this way, we can protect ourselves and others from infection and serious illnesses."