Our starting point is that under our current prioritisation system you only get to the front of the vaccine queue when all those generally more vulnerable than you – older, or sicker, or with medical conditions that mean catching COVID is a clear and present danger, or front-line health workers – have had their share. But we have exceptions. The obvious example is the Australian Olympians in Tokyo. There was no controversy about them getting the jab, because it makes sense to everybody that to hold a sports competition in the middle of a pandemic, it was insane unless just about everybody was vaccinated. We value the Olympics so much, we decided to put our Olympians at the front of the queue and there was not a peep of complaint.
But aren’t the NRL, AFL and Wallabies right now doing exactly the same?
At this point, I suspect, I’ve lost about a quarter of you, who maintain that we shouldn’t be playing any sport at all in the middle of this. That is an entirely separate issue, and you might recall that about a year ago I was a vociferous critic of the NRL coming back only a short time after it had put the whole thing into hiatus. In the end, the NRL got away with it and, one way or another, Australia decided sports would proceed – even if, and make no mistake, the seasons of all three of those professional codes are hanging by a Queensland thread.
As the desperately contagious Delta strain takes a stronger hold, our society has decided that pretty much the only really close-contact-with-strangers communal activity allowed right now is professional footballers going hard at it. The reckoning is that even though those activities are obviously risky, the benefit to the nation of having a distraction in lockdown, and keeping that part of the economy going, outweighs the risks.
And, yes, all of the footballers are meant to be living in strict bubbles, but there have been so many demonstrably insane breaches so far – and here’s a special cheerio to the Dickhead Dragons of Delta Dawn fame – what on earth makes you think there will be no further breaches? It is a miracle there has not been a footballing outbreak so far.
So here is my point. If we are going to allow this to go on; if we have decided to make an exception in their case – and that would seem to be the decision taken – does it not make sense to give them every protection while doing it?
Right now, aren’t we doing the equivalent of sending footballers out to go motor racing without wearing seat belts? In fact, it’s worse because it is not just the footballers themselves at risk from the virus, but the rest of us. This Delta strain is so contagious it would need only one player to have it while playing for there to be every chance that dozens of families would soon have it. It would grow exponentially from there – making a football match a super-spreader event.
We are not talking about a huge number of jabs here – with a bit more than a thousand professional footballers in the country, at a time when the federal government is boasting that it will soon be doing more than a million a week. I know, I know, the government’s promises on vaccines in recent times, plus $5, might get you a windy cappuccino served outside your local cafe, if you’re lucky, but still.
The point remains. For me, this is a no-brainer.
Those professional footballers who want the jab should be encouraged and allowed to get it as a priority. And no, it wouldn’t be the be all and end all protection for them any more than it would be for the rest of us. Nor would it be a guarantee they wouldn’t still be infectious if they did contract it. But it would be an added safeguard for them, and the rest of the community, the way seat belts and birth control measures are.
Of the many upsides, the fact the people’s heroes were seen to embrace vaccination without falling down dead with a blood clot or growing another head would help spread what must be the government’s main message right now: the only way out of this complete COVID debacle is for as much of the population as possible to get vaccinated as soon as it can.
Get past your gut instinct of “the hell with footballers getting special treatment, again” and come to the conclusion I have: it’s not for them, it’s for us.
If you are still in favour of professional sports going on, you have to have them buckled up, so we can all knuckle down and get on top of this damn thing while the sport goes on. Beyond everything else, for the sake of a measly thousand vials, there could be no better marketing campaign for vaccines, particularly if you encouraged the players to post selfies on Instagram, or better still, TikTok!
And if you are in the “stop all sport” camp, fine. The wind is blowing your way and the longer the players go without a jab, the more likely it is that is precisely what will happen.
Sports news, results and expert commentary. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.