Sport and Covid-19, the vaccine for discord

« To be vaccinated or not to play anymore » : Andrew Wiggins or the dilemma at $ 15.8 million (half of his salary). The Canadian basketball player has been talked about in the NBA microcosm, and even beyond. The Golden State Warriors player resolved to be vaccinated against Covid-19 on Saturday, October 2, after having long been one of the faces of unvaccinated US athletes in US sport. Like society as a whole, the world of sport is thus living with the coronavirus, its constraints, its needs and its areas of friction.

Like Wiggins, other athletes have been or continue to be reluctant to be vaccinated, a subject that has become central to the concerns of these professional practitioners. The San Francisco franchise player and the others see all eyes on them, and many questions arise. Who have not found consensus in sport.

Some players in the world of sport have become fervent activists for the cause of research, such as Racing 92 in rugby or Olympique de Marseille. In an operation combining public health and communication, the Marseille club had made the vaccination of its workforce a real campaign on social networks to encourage the population to receive their doses.

Gaël Monfils or Kylian Mbappé have also put themselves forward, sticking plaster on their arm on their various accounts. The striker of the France football team had the right to congratulations from Emmanuel Macron during a rally of the Blues before the Euro, turning a sting into a political act.

Other athletes, for their part, refused to lend their image and name to the cause of vaccination. « It’s not my role to tell people what to eat, what to drink, what to inject into their body, explained the pivot of the French basketball team Rudy Gobert to franceinfo: sport on September 16. I make a decision about what I think is right for me.« Gobert, whose positive Covid-19 test was the trigger for the suspension of the NBA season in 2020, leaves the public as the sole judge of his responsibilities. Some of his colleagues have been more vocal.

The professional tennis circuit has once been the main forum for sport around the issue of vaccination. The majority of « old » ATP like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray pleaded for the fastest possible vaccination in the world of the yellow ball. But part of the young guard, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the lead, had been very reserved on the issue. It took an intervention in high places of the Greek government so that Tsitsipas does not change « camp ». Before the US Open at the end of August, just over half of male players were vaccinated. Far, very far even, from the figures recorded by North American championships like the NFL or the NBA.

I’m not for or anti-vaccine, I’m for freedom of choice

Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills football player

Team sports see the « group strength » often pushing players to follow the majority unlike individual sports like tennis. Despite more than 95% of players having received at least one dose, the American football (NFL) and basketball (NBA) leagues are nonetheless relieved of controversy and heated debates on the issue of vaccination. The NFL has, however, been among the toughest in the world of sport, with heavy restrictions against unvaccinated players. The sanctions can go up to matches lost by forfeit if a team cannot find a postponement date for a postponed meeting following cases of Covid of unvaccinated players.

That hasn’t stopped Buffalo Bills player Cole Beasley from being booed by his own audience for publicly expressing his refusal to be vaccinated. « I’m not pro or anti-vaccine, I’m for freedom of choice« Beasley blurted out in a statement read at a press conference.

While the NBA, unlike the NFL, has decided to let the cities in which its franchises operate dictate the health rules, the main basketball league in the world has been uncompromising in their application. The city of San Francisco has imposed vaccination for anyone wishing to attend a large indoor event, such as sporting events, including for players.

Even more striking than the situation of Andrew Wiggins, that of Kyrie Irving is perhaps the main question before the resumption of the NBA season on October 19. The Brooklyn Nets player is one of the fiercest opponents of the vaccine, going so far as to like the theories of one of the most famous conspirators in the United States on social networks. Superstar, 2016 Olympic champion and vice-president of the players’ union, Irving is a figure in the NBA and one of its most ardent activists on social and racial issues, as during the « Black Lives Matter » movement.

Confronted with the same setting in the New York area as in San Francisco, the playmaker is not allowed to take part in his training matches, or even in press conferences, in which he takes part from his living room by videoconference . Ubuesque file until the end: he could not obtain access to the Nets training center until Friday, October 8 – well after the start of the recovery – thanks to a legal gray area of ​​the health regulations of the Big Apple.

The Brooklyn franchise training gym is thus considered a private space, unlike the Barclays Center, where the home team play. The player could miss a minimum of 41 out of 82 scheduled games, and lose up to $ 15 million ($ 380,000 per game missed). His frankness, hanging on the lips of his star, faces a strange dilemma: agree to have Irving part-time only away, or completely deprive himself of his player for the sake of balance and fairness vis- vis-à-vis the rest of the team.

Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving is among the players refusing to be vaccinated.  (ELSA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA)

In NHL, the hockey league, the Columbus Blue Jackets did not hesitate. One of their summer rookies, Zac Rinaldo, was not invited to preseason camp for refusing to get the shot. « This is a very important subject for us, a subject where the collective takes precedence, defended John Davidson, president of the franchise. We win as a team, we lose as a team. As we continue to go through this pandemic, we must do what we have to do. I am proud of our workforce and that they recognize how important it is for us to protect ourselves and others.« 

The Brooklyn Nets are currently playing the watch so as not to hold up Kyrie Irving. It’s hard to imagine one of the major players in his sport being simply dismissed for his beliefs. For these same convictions, some people even in the medical profession have lost their jobs.

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