OLIVER HOLT: It’s time for vaccine denying players to wake up and get the jab now


As football comes to terms with the ruins of this weekend’s fixture list, it is time that the players who are still refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19 were told a few home truths. 

It is time, frankly, to tell them to grow up and stop listening to the mish-mash of old wives’ tales and conspiracy theories that have infected their thinking. It is time they were told to take a long hard look at themselves and take some responsibility.

It was easy to detect a sense of growing impatience in the words of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp last week when he wrote about the issue in his programme notes for the match against Newcastle United.

It was easy to detect Jurgen Klopp’s impatience over footballers not being having their jabs

Covid-19 is hitting the Premier League hard, with Aston Villa v Burnley the latest game to fall

Covid-19 is hitting the Premier League hard, with Aston Villa v Burnley the latest game to fall

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel (left) has been vaccinated amid ongoing coronavirus crisis

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel (left) has been vaccinated amid ongoing coronavirus crisis

‘Ignore those who pretend to know,’ he wrote. ‘Ignore lies and misinformation. Listen to people who know best. If you do, you end up wanting the vaccine and the booster.’

Not for the first time, English football owes a debt of gratitude to Klopp. Klopp spoke for many of us when he articulated those feelings. 

There are not too many among his number who have had the courage to tell it like it is because, unfortunately, the truth attracts blow-back from cranks who would rather believe unfounded rumours peddled by fools on social media than the opinion of eminent scientists.

Richarlison has received his vaccination, but the Premier League is trailing in terms of jabs

Richarlison has received his vaccination, but the Premier League is trailing in terms of jabs

England boss Gareth Southgate was heavily abused after advocating vaccinations this year

England boss Gareth Southgate was heavily abused after advocating vaccinations this year

That means that on BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday, even an experienced host like Mark Chapman had to apologise for asking an ex-footballer whether current footballers should get the jab because he was worried about exposing him to criticism. 

The England manager, Gareth Southgate, was deluged with abuse when he advocated vaccinations. Science and common sense are being shouted down by idiots.

The two rumours that still appear to be rife in Premier League and Football League dressing rooms are, first, that vaccinations are the reason Christian Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest at the Euros last summer, they are the reason Victor Lindelof complained of chest pains, they are the reason Sergio Aguero retired and that they are generally behind an increase in the incidence of players who have collapsed on the pitch in recent months.

That rumour is false. It is gobbledegook. It has been debunked by scientists. For a start, the doctor at Inter Milan, where Eriksen played his club football, has already revealed that Eriksen had not been vaccinated against Covid so even the conspiracy theorists will be hard pushed to maintain that particular argument.

Rumours have been debunked, including the theory Victor Lindelof (second from right) complained of chest pains as a result of being vaccinated

Rumours have been debunked, including the theory Victor Lindelof (second from right) complained of chest pains as a result of being vaccinated

The wider truth is, actually, that fewer footballers are exhibiting heart issues this season than in the seasons that came before the pandemic. 

Some footballers, it seems, would rather believe fake news than facts but as an Irish Times colleague pointed out recently, a study published last December in the British Journal of Sports found 475 instances of football-related sudden cardiac death across 67 countries, with a further 142 cases where a player suffered a cardiac arrest but survived.

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Last month, Agence France-Presse asked the lead author of that study, Dr Florian Egger, to comment on Facebook reports of a surge in cardiac problems among players since the introduction of Covid vaccines. 

He said even if the Facebook allegations about the number of incidents this year were to be accepted, ‘there would still be fewer heart emergencies in football than in the pre-Corona year of 2018… there are no more deaths among footballers than before the Covid-19 pandemic.’

Those who are fully vaccinated are far less likely to infect others than those who have refused

Those who are fully vaccinated are far less likely to infect others than those who have refused

The truth attracts blow-back from cranks who would rather believe rumours over scientists

The truth attracts blow-back from cranks who would rather believe rumours over scientists

The other rumour prejudicing impressionable footballers against the vaccine is that their fertility will be affected. Again, this is laughably inaccurate, alarmist and irresponsible. It is far more likely that catching Covid, rather than being protected against it, will affect fertility.

‘There is evidence to suggest that infection with SARS-CoV-2 has the potential to impact both male fertility, female fertility, and certainly the health of a pregnancy of someone infected,’ said Dr Jennifer Kawwass, a reproductive endocrinologist and associate professor at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. 

‘And there is simultaneously no evidence that the vaccine has any negative impact on male or female fertility.’

Even in the fact of overwhelming evidence of its efficacy, it would be wrong to force players to be vaccinated. That cannot be allowed to happen in a civilised society but the time has come now where the Premier League and the Football League have to start adopting a more hard-line attitude towards players who refuse to be vaccinated just as other professional leagues like the NBA have done.

Leeds and Arsenal supporters showed their NHS Covid passes before entering Elland Road

Leeds and Arsenal supporters showed their NHS Covid passes before entering Elland Road

Why should players be treated any differently from fans when it comes to gaining access to a football stadium? I had to show a Covid pass on my phone with proof of vaccination when I arrived at Elland Road for Leeds United’s match against Arsenal. Fans had to do the same to get into the ground.

The idea that footballers should somehow be treated differently to the rest of the football population is untenable, particularly when supporters are being treated like dirt by the Premier League in particular. Fans are arriving at stadiums to be told games have been cancelled at short notice, in part because players are refusing to be vaccinated and teams are being decimated by Covid outbreaks.

The Premier League, sadly, has become complicit in this mess. It is dancing around the vaccination issue, refusing to issue figures about what percentage of players have had their jabs and their booster and hiding the details behind postponements. That has to stop. They have to ask players to start taking responsibility for the health of those around them and the future of the game.

Eddie Howe has said a player's vaccination status will enter into the club's thinking next month

Eddie Howe has said a player’s vaccination status will enter into the club’s thinking next month

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Employment law in this country militates against clubs docking players’ wages if they refuse to be vaccinated but we have surely reached a point now where our footballers have to be told that if they continue to dismiss the well-being of their team-mates and other club employees, as well as the health of the game, then they will have to train alone and will not be considered for selection.

Some managers like Newcastle’s Eddie Howe have already said that the issue of whether a player has been vaccinated or not will enter into the club’s thinking when they are deciding who to sign in the January transfer window. It is hard to argue with that logic. Why sign a player who could effectively sabotage the health of those around him and the club’s ability to fulfil its fixtures?

Perhaps the weight of evidence in favour of being vaccinated will begin to persuade even the most recalcitrant of players to reconsider their refusals. 

Perhaps the fact that Joshua Kimmich, one of the best players in Europe, caught Covid after refusing to be vaccinated and has now developed a lung problem that will keep him out until next month, will prompt some to rethink. Kimmich now says he wishes that he had been vaccinated.

Joshua Kimmich refused to be vaccinated and developed a lung issue, which has ruled him out

Joshua Kimmich refused to be vaccinated and developed a lung issue, which has ruled him out

Vaccination is not a panacea for football and footballers. It does not prevent infection. But the science says that those who are fully vaccinated are far less likely to infect others than those who have refused to be vaccinated. 

They are also, as an aside, less likely to fill hospital wards and prevent those suffering from other illnesses from getting treatment.

It is time for the hold-outs in English football to wake up. The chaos of this weekend was more evidence that players owe it to the game to be vaccinated. 

They owe it to the fans to be vaccinated. They owe it to the vulnerable around them in society to be vaccinated. And, as Kimmich is discovering, they owe it to themselves.

HOW OMICRON COVID OUTBREAKS HAVE THE PREMIER LEAGUE ON EDGE

Arsenal

Mikel Arteta revealed Arsenal had been forced to close their London Colney training ground after reporting a ‘few cases’ among players and staff following their 2-0 victory over West Ham United. Defender Pablo Mari and midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga were among those to test positive and therefore missed the win at Leeds. 

Aston Villa 

Forced to postpone Premier League clash with Burnley on December 18 just two hours before kick-off after an increased amount of positive Covid-19 test results within their playing squad. 

Brentford

The Bees have 13 cases among players and staff – the club are now calling for a circuit-breaker szhutdown to help clubs recover. Their training ground has been closed and as a result their trip to Southampton on Saturday has been postponed. 

Leicester

Would have been without several players for Tottenham’s visit on Thursday due to Covid before the game was postponed – despite initial calls being rejected – hours before kick-off.  Their training ground was closed on Thursday morning to contain the outbreak but given they have an insufficient number of players available, their weekend trip to Everton is also off.

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Manchester United

Case numbers are currently unknown but a large outbreak saw their game with Brentford postponed. Calls to have Saturday’s game with Brighton to be postponed were accepted on Thursday, and it has emerged that United would have had only seven available players for that game such is the impact of the outbreak. Their training complex is closed until Tuesday at least, in order to reduce the risk of transmission.

Brighton

Had a request for Wednesday’s game with Wolves to be postponed rejected by the Premier League following an outbreak at the club. Graham Potter confirmed there were ‘three to four’ positive cases before the game, which they lost 1-0. Saturday’s game with Manchester United has now been postponed.

Norwich

Manager Dean Smith was facing an anxious wait to discover the full extent of the outbreak at the club. Josh Sargent, Lukas Rupp and Pierre Lees-Melou were absent from the squad that faced Aston Villa in midweek for ‘Covid-related’ reasons, but while Christos Tzolis is the only confirmed player to test positive, more positive test results have been returned. The Canaries had discussions with the Premier League over Saturday’s clash with West Ham and it was agreed to postpone as they have an insufficient number of players available. 

Watford

Saw their midweek game with Burnley postponed just hours before kick-off. With their training ground closed, their home match with Crystal Palace has now been confirmed as postponed too. Case numbers are currently unknown but they do not sufficient players to fulfil the Palace match.

Tottenham

Spurs were the first Premier League club to be hit by the Omicron variant last week and saw games against Brighton and Rennes postponed after cases reached double digits among players and staff. Those who tested positive for the virus are expected to return in the next couple of days after completing their 10-day self-isolation period. Spurs’ clash with Leicester on Thursday was postponed despite initial demands to have the game called off were rejected, but Sunday’s clash with Liverpool is due to go ahead.

Chelsea

After Brentford, the Blues became the latest club to be hit by a Covid outbreak, after it was confirmed ahead of their game with Everton that four more first-team players had tested positive. Mateo Kovacic was the first Chelsea player to get the virus in the outbreak this week, with Romelu Lukaku, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner and Ben Chilwell following. Neverthless, their game with Everton went ahead and was drawn. They are due to play Wolves on Sunday.

Liverpool

It was confirmed just an hour before kick-off against Newcastle on Thursday night that Fabinho, Curtis Jones and Virgil van Dijk were all out having tested positive for Covid. They won the game 3-1 and are due to play Tottenham on Sunday. 



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