Plans were being drawn up on Friday night to exclude Premier League footballers – and other UK-based sportspeople – who refuse to be vaccinated against coronavirus from the Government’s “elite sport exemption”.
The dramatic crackdown on anti-vaxx athletes would prevent them being able to train or compete for between five and 10 days while they quarantine upon their return to Britain from a foreign country.
Here, Telegraph Sport takes a look at the potential impact on sport:
The primary target of the crackdown, with 16 per cent of Premier League and 25 per cent of English Football League players unvaccinated according to the latest figures. The move could prevent unjabbed Premier League players going on holiday during the upcoming winter break and affect any returning from the Africa Cup of Nations. It could stop such players playing in the away legs of Champions League and Europa League ties or force them to miss domestic games upon their return. It could also see clubs refuse to release them – including unvaccinated England players – for international duty overseas. Any foreign pre-season tours could be impacted, as could players’ summer holidays. Not to mention the World Cup at the end of the year.
Six Nations matches and European club games could be the first affected by any rule change, with Henry Slade – who revealed to Telegraph sport last year that he had yet to receive a vaccine – among its potential victims. Elite rugby union matches are only played once a week to allow players to recover properly but those who have not been jabbed could still miss games were they banned from training in the build-up to them. England, Scotland and Wales are scheduled to tour Australia, Argentina and South Africa, respectively, this summer, and unjabbed players would be affected upon their return to the UK. Premiership Rugby says 96 per cent of its players have been fully vaccinated.
Given Australia’s refusal to grant Novak Djokovic entry to the country, it appears safe to say all of England’s Ashes squad are either fully vaccinated or have a genuine medical condition that means they cannot be. Anyone in their Twenty20 squad who has not been jabbed could, however, be impacted when they return from their five-match series in West Indies this month, as could any player taking part in the lucrative Indian Premier League.
While there would be no risk of an unjabbed Briton being unable to play both the French Open and Wimbledon, they would have to ensure they were in the UK well in advance of the latter’s June 27 start date. Top players spend the majority of their lives on tour and, other than team competition, only really play in Britain during the grass-court season. The Government’s crackdown will not include non-residents so Djokovic should be able to defend his Wimbledon title unimpeded.
An unvaccinated British golfer could be forced to skip overseas warm-up events for the Open or Women’s Open to avoid being banned from playing in the latter competitions. That would not involve having to miss any of the other majors although an unjabbed British female golfer could be banned from practising before the August 4-7 Women’s Open if they also play the July 21-24 Evian Championship.
With most teams based in the UK, the Government crackdown would make life hell for anyone unvaccinated who travels to races before returning home to Britain. However, it would be a shock if someone working in a sport at the cutting edge of science and technology turned out to be an anti-vaxxer.
The new rules could prevent unvaccinated track-and-field athletes competing at this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham if they travel to the World Championships in Eugene. The two events are days apart. Like footballers, unjabbed athletes would face a torrid time regardless if they would usually return to the UK to train between competitions that take place across the world.
Ineos Grenadiers are based in the UK but all their riders are fully vaccinated. An unofficial “no jab, no ride” policy appears to have been adopted by professional teams within a sport in which many competitors spend their year living in Spain and Italy.
Unvaccinated British boxers would be affected by the new rules but fights are so infrequent that the crackdown would only really come into play if someone was returning from an overseas training camp for a bout in this country.
Unvaccinated athletes were already facing being effectively banned from competing at next month’s Beijing Games due to rules that would force them to quarantine for 21 days. So anyone selected to represent Great Britain would be all but guaranteed to have been double-jabbed.