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Friday, January 21, 2022

Explained: Why anti-vaxxers have become an issue in English football

This weekend six top-flight games were called off because of positive Covid-19 cases in teams. In all 19 of 36 games were postponed across English football.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: December 23, 2021 8:05:30 am
EPLCovid Passports and ID's are shown by fans prior to the English Premier League soccer match between Brighton and Wolves at the AMEX Stadium, Brighton, England (AP)

With the coronavirus affecting the English Premier League schedule, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp said that he does not want to sign players who are unvaccinated. With the January transfer window coming up, how the club manages goes about signings will be interesting to follow.

What did Klopp say and why is it significant?

The Liverpool manager believes the cost of not getting vaccinated is too high for a football club to endure health-wise and because of the protocols which kick in. “If a player is not vaccinated at all, he is a constant threat for all of us,” Klopp said.

“…he has to change in a different dressing room, he has to eat in a different dining room, he has to sit in a different bus, he has to drive in a different car: from an organisational point of view, it gets really messy,” Klopp added.

An unvaccinated player, the Liverpool manager said, takes more time to get back to training in certain scenarios. Like upon returning from a foreign country, the player has to self-isolate. Also if an unvaccinated player is a close contact of someone in the team, who tests positive, it will result in the player having to self-isolate for 10 days as per rules laid down by the UK government.

What are the views of other prominent managers about anti-vaxxers? 

Klopp has made the strongest push to not have unvaccinated players in the squad. ’99 per cent’ of the Liverpool team and support staff are vaccinated, the manager had said in October.

Others have been asking players to get vaccinated but have left it to them to decide. Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard has said taking a stance on unvaccinated players ‘would surely come into conversations’. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is another who has asked players to get vaccinated. Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has also told players to get vaccinated but has said making it mandatory may not be the way forward. Tottenham Hotspur manager Antonio Conte said to get vaccinated was a ‘personal choice’. “Honestly, this is a personal matter the vaccination,” Conte said. “I’ve been vaccinated and my family, my daughter and wife, they did the same. But for sure, this matter is a personal matter. I’d like that other people do the same but every single person has to take the best decision for himself,” Conte added.

How badly is the Premier League hit?

This weekend six top-flight games were called off because of positive cases in teams. In all 19 of 36 games were postponed across English football. Managers and teams want to avoid further disruptions in the schedule but if cases increase they could be left with no other choice.

How is the EPL faring when it comes to vaccination rates?

In terms of the percentage of players, the EPL is lagging behind. According to bbc.com, the latest data from October says 68 per cent of players in the English Premier League were fully vaccinated. However, the major leagues in other countries are doing much better. In Serie A, 98% of the players have got both jabs, in Ligue 1 this number is 95, in the Bundesliga 94 and in La Liga it is 90.

The comparatively lower rate of fully vaccinated players in England (though comparable to the general population below the age of 40) is becoming an issue across football in England. The English Football League, the tier below the Premier League, says a quarter of players “do not intend to get a vaccine” against Covid-19.

Is ‘firebreak’ an option?

Managers of 20 premier league clubs, along with owners and officials will meet virtually on Monday to discuss the Covid crisis. The Premier League, English Football League and the Professional Footballers’ Association have also set up a meeting between players and England’s chief deputy medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam to discuss concerns regarding the vaccine. What will be debated is whether the Premier League needs a firebreak to stop the risk of more players testing positive. Not all managers are for a firebreak because it simply means that more matches will have to be played over a shorter time in the future if the full schedule is to be completed. “I just don’t see 100% the benefit of it. Stopping the league means we stop now for one to two weeks, it means [missing] five to six games. So when do you want to play them?” Klopp said.

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