The complicated relationship of Covid-19 vaccinations and the sporting world

Like the rest of the world, sports people are facing the question of whether or not to take the Covid-19 vaccine. Sports and leagues have had differing responses both in uptake and what to do with those who choose to stay unvaccianted. As the global pandemic situation intensifies once again, the pressure for sports people to be vaccination role models might also intensify.

The most high-profile restriction of an unvaccinated athlete in world sport is Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets basketballer. The Nets said they could “not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability”, because of local restrictions on all basketballers in the New York area, Irving will be part-time. In a statement they confirmed he would be unable to play or train until he gets his jab. This opens up a question of free choice, the Nets were quick to “respect his individual right to choose”. However, it did not stop them from prohibiting his involvement. 

The NBA, as a league, is above average in the world of sport in terms of their vaccinations. 95% of their players are fully vaccinated. A fact that can easily be forgotten amongst the highly controversial case of Irving as well as other high profile players, who have publicly expressed their desire to avoid the vaccines.  

A few of those sportspeople who have avoided the vaccine have shared their responses. Tennis World Number four Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is 23, says he does not see the point of someone his age to get the jab because of the known side effects. Despite the benefits of less hospitalitions, NBA All-star Bradley Beal argued, a vaccine that does not stop him from getting it is useless when he believes he will come through coronavirus unscathed. 

Other sports are more forgiving of those who remain unvaccinated. There are very few other cases of athletes being unable to compete in any way. In the UK’s most popular league, the Premier League, they have a full vaccination rate of just 68% amongst their players. There is no punishment for those that make that choice though. In early October, the Athletic reported two Premier League clubs with less than 25% fully vaccinated. Wolverhampton Wanderers, on the other hand, have confirmed all their players have had both jabs. 

The importance of vaccinations in sport should not be underplayed, as the NHS is set to be under intense stress over the festive period due to the new Omicron variant and ever-increasing infection rate. The old adage of sport having great social power on the population is ever present and footballers in this country undoubtedly have an influence on the wider vaccination rates. 

This is no different to the rest of the world, as the pandemic rolls on sports stars must be wary of the impact of their vaccination choices.    

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Oscar Ress

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June 2022
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