Fast approaching the point when unvaccinated players must step aside

Brendan Crossan

Brendan Crossan

Brendan is a sports reporter at The Irish News. He has worked at the media outlet since January 1999 and specialises in GAA, soccer and boxing. He has been the Republic of Ireland soccer correspondent since 2001 and has covered the 2002 and 2006 World Cup finals and the 2012 European Championships

Republic of Ireland's Callum Robinson has refused to get vaccinated after contracting COVID19 twice and losing out on international caps
Republic of Ireland's Callum Robinson has refused to get vaccinated after contracting COVID19 twice and losing out on international caps

IT has become standard practice to fill in Covid questionnaire forms to attend events. While they’re a minor nuisance it’s a small price to pay to escape the clutches of yet another zoom call.

Just recently, the FAI reverted back to in-person press conferences. This was a welcome move.

Last week, the Association invited members of the media to a briefing with Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny where he announced his 26-man squad to face Azerbaijan and Qatar.

As expected, you had to fill in a Covid questionnaire form to gain admittance.

In a follow-up email the FAI press office asked for journalists planning to attend to provide a Covid vaccination certificate upon entry.

Upon arrival no-one, to the best of my knowledge, checked for vaccination certificates.

On Monday of this week, more form-filling to interview Republic of Ireland players Gavin Bazunu, Chiedozie Ogbene and Jamie McGrath – only this time the questionnaire was amended to ensure that the applicant was vaccinated. All you had to do was tick the 'yes' box.

No journalist asked if any of the three players were vaccinated.

It took another press briefing the following day where Callum Robinson, twice struck down by Covid, revealed he hadn’t been vaccinated.

It’s strange when the FAI is eager to ensure journalists are vaccinated to enter the press room but don’t apply the same rule to its players, even if they are regularly tested in camp in line with UEFA protocol.

The press room should have been a 100 per cent vaccinated space. For everyone’s sake.

Even if someone isn’t ideologically wedded to the whole notion of the vaccination programme, for pragmatic reasons alone, you would think it would make sense for Robinson to get jabbed.

After all, here was one of Ireland's strikers who was left counting the cost of lost international caps through Covid-related issues.

Without vaccination, he can still be pinged as a close contact, while vaccinated people are exempt.

As if Stephen Kenny’s tenure as senior international manager hasn’t already been ravaged by Covid issues, he’s having to be a politician in fielding questions about unvaccinated players in his squad.

Kenny’s preference would be for all of his players to be vaccinated but reckoned there was a number close to double figures in the current squad who weren’t.

Behind the scenes, there must be serious tensions among squads up and down the country: who is vaccinated and who isn’t. And if not, why not?

It has been reported that less than 50 per cent of Premier League players are vaccinated. Naturally, vaccination rates coming out of clubs have been patchy.

Some clubs, such as Wolves, Leeds United, Brentford and Southampton are believed to have a high uptake.

Compare the Premier League’s ambivalence towards vaccination with America’s NBA who have taken a no-nonsense approach towards unvaccinated players.

They will be banned from eating in the same room as vaccinated players, they will be given isolated lockers and will sit away from others in team meetings.

Among a raft of other constraints, unvaccinated NBA players will not be allowed to leave the team hotel and can only leave their homes for essential reasons.

It’s reached the point where clubs can no longer tip-toe around the issue while at the same time projecting this image that footballers are in some way above society and that catastrophic public health crises are none of their business.

That’s why it was good to hear Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp promoting vaccination as an act of citizenship.

More Premier League managers need to follow Klopp's lead.

Likewise, it would be good if the GAA announced similar campaigns rather than being agnostic and passive.

It is astounding to think back to 2020 when our lives and our children’s lives were in the depths of despair, and how lockdown cruelly culled a year of their childhoods, and yet spool forward to the present and there are people bitterly divided by the merits of the vaccination programme - even though it is the singular reason why some sense of normality has returned to our lives.

The Covid vaccination programme is a good thing.

How can it be anything else when over 70 percent of ICU beds are being consistently occupied by people who are not fully vaccinated.

As revealed in The Irish News this week, only 60 per cent of nurses in the Belfast Health Trust were fully vaccinated up to and including June of this year, while Unison defended the right of care workers to choose whether to get vaccinated even though they’re working with vulnerable people.

The mind boggles.

In the meantime, social media will always provide you with the answer you're looking for, just so long as you go down enough rabbit holes.

Despite the darkness of 2020, there are some people who can't accept that social contracts change in a global pandemic.

Nobody wanted them to change but they do.

Nobody summed it up better than emergency consultant Eoghan Ferrie.

In an interview with this paper, Dr Ferrie said: “I think part of it is a failure to understand the purpose of vaccination programmes – they are public health programmes, it’s just not to protect individuals from getting sick but to protect populations.

“If it’s just about people being happy to gamble as an individual on getting sick or not – and if you get enough people with that opinion – it affects population...

“Their behaviour is allowing the health service to be overwhelmed.

“I worked in Australia for a year, who are behind us with the vaccination rollout.

“One of the colleagues who I keep in touch with made an interesting comment saying that in the movies, the film ends when the vaccine comes and everybody is cheering. That’s not what’s happening in real life.”

Some people have jumped to Callum Robinson’s defence for exercising “personal choice” over his refusal to be vaccinated, but his is ultimately a selfish act, devoid of any sense of civic duty to help overcome this public health crisis.

It’s also reaching the point where unvaccinated players might have to forgo international duty, especially when their notion of “personal choice” infringes on the rights of others.