Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

British Football’s battle with COVID-19 vaccination effort

Posted on 29 October 2021 by Ben Thorne

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English football has faced a long and arduous battle to convince its players and staff to accept the offer of a COVID-19 vaccine, but the vaccination rate is finally picking up some pace.

From the Premier League to non-league, many players have given their reasons to reject the opportunity of a COVID vaccination.

Some players have their own respective opinions and beliefs of how to treat their own body, whereas others have just decided not to take up the option.

On the 19th of October, the Premier League released an official statement regarding the current vaccination statistics.

It confirms that 81% of Premier League players have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose, with 68% of players now fully vaccinated.

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van Tam, has praised the recent surge of COVID-19 vaccinations within the Premier League.

He told BBC Sport that the most recent data released by the Premier League is “a massive leap forward. This latest data shows the tide is very clearly turning.”

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However, there has been a struggle to persuade some players to take a COVID-19 vaccination to get to this encouraging point in time.

West Bromwich Albion forward and Republic of Ireland international, Callum Robinson, has recently confirmed that he has no intention at the moment of receiving the vaccine, despite contracting COVID-19 twice already.

He said:

“I haven’t been vaccinated, no. That’s my choice at this moment in time.”

“There are managers and people that will want you to do it, which is right in their way, the way they think, but everyone has their choice on what they want to do. I wouldn’t force people to do it, it’s your choice and your body.”

Speaking to AFC Wimbledon First Team Head Coach, Rob Tuvey, has helped explain how the club are overseen by the FA in relation to maintaining COVID safety protocols.

Also, Tuvey explains how the club are treating and guiding their players through an unprecedented period off the pitch.

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Tuvey said:

“We are governed by the FA who have strict guidelines for us, which means we are testing twice a week at the moment to ensure everyone is safe.”

“In the environment that we have they feel comfortable being honest and expressing their own mind.”

“All we can do is guide them, but I think that overall the players have really handled the situation well and respected the current situation.”

With the recent confirmation by the Premier League of the current COVID-19 vaccination numbers, it is important to gauge an insight into how clubs and players within the Football League have reacted to a proposal of a vaccine.

Tuvey highlights the emphasis AFC Wimbledon have put on the vaccine and how the players have reacted to the possibility of ensuring their own safety.

He said:

“In terms of the vaccinations, the players have been advised by the club as we are now up to 70-80% of the squad that have had at least one COVID vaccination.”

“We know at the club the importance of the vaccinations, but we also have to respect the beliefs and opinions of the players as well.”

These vaccination numbers within Football League clubs are insightful, as clubs within the Football League have to rely upon their own resources to ensure players are receiving the correct information and treatment in relation to vaccinations.

As the majority of Premier League clubs will have their own testing and vaccination centres which makes tracking of COVID easier to maintain and oversee.

However, the remaining 20-30% of players at AFC Wimbledon that have decided, up to this point, not to take up the offer of a vaccine does raise an interesting case.

If there are similar vaccination numbers at all Football League clubs that we have seen from AFC Wimbledon, there will end up being a large amount of un-vaccinated players across the Football League.

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AFC Wimbledon does, in fact, boast one of the youngest average squads in the entire Football League, with individual players such as, Jack Rudoni, Ayoub Assal and Anthony Hartigan particularly impressing this season in League 1.

With First team Manager, Mark Robinson and Head Coach Rob Tuvey, they are confident and comfortable with the atmosphere and harmony they have created within the squad, due to their wealth of experience within youth development at AFC Wimbledon.

He explained:

“The methods that we have brought into the first team are what they are used to, which has helped massively.”

“I think what this has allowed us to do is lean on them as we want the youngsters of the academy to be the driving force of this football club. With the methods that we are putting in place they are starting to become that.”

Tuvey also believes that with the COVID-19 protocols and all the difficulties they bring, the young squad they have embody the environment of the club to pass challenges and develop even further.

The first team head coach said:

“What we want to try and do at AFC Wimbledon is change the way of thinking and provide an environment that is educational.”

“Where people can strive to become better, think for themselves and give the players a lot of ownership. Which at times is a challenge because it can take longer than you think, but it’s exciting.”

Looking ahead to the Qatar World Cup in 2022, it remains to be confirmed whether players will need to be vaccinated in order to travel and play.

This emphasises this stage of the vaccination effort as crucial not only for their own safety, but also for the staging and preparation of major sporting events.