CONCERNS: PFA against forcing unvaccinated players to train seperately
PA Zac Goodwin
Forcing unvaccinated players to train and travel separately as a means to tackle the Covid-19 crisis would be “over simplistic”, according to the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
It has been reported that Premier League clubs are giving consideration to such measures, and to bring in tighter coronavirus checks for unvaccinated players, as they try to cope with a raft of postponements amid a resurgence in cases.
There are concerns among top-flight sides around unvaccinated players being forced to isolate – and therefore be unavailable for selection – if they are a close contact of a team-mate or staff member who tests positive, whereas a double-vaccinated player in the same circumstances could continue to play and train provided they take daily tests.
Union boss Maheta Molango says plans to treat unvaccinated players in any way differently have not been brought to his attention, but pointed out vaccination should not be the only consideration around the Omicron variant, which has been shown to infect double and even triple-vaccinated people.
“Vaccination is one part of the puzzle, a very, very important one – but it’s only one part of it,” he told the PA news agency.
“We’re all very conscious of the fact that right now, unfortunately, the Omicron variant spreads even amongst people who are double or triple-jabbed. This is a reality and it is not just (the case) in football, it is in all society.
“So I think we should be careful about becoming over simplistic about things which are very complex.”
Molango said there needed to be a “change in messaging” around vaccination rates among players, and argued they are “leading the line” compared to people in wider society in their age group.
The Premier League announced updated vaccination rates on Monday, showing that 16 per cent were yet to have a single dose, with the EFL revealing the week before that one in four players across its three divisions currently had no intention to get vaccinated.
Molango says the union is working hard to ensure players make the “right choice based on science”, but added: “Eighty four per cent (in the Premier League) are on the journey to be either double or triple-jabbed.
“That’s a very high figure because if we compare these were the same age range outside of football, between 25 and 29 years old, the average is 78.5 per cent. So footballers are almost 10 per cent higher.
“I think it is time to change a bit of messaging around football and stress that they’re leading the line in terms of the very same age group.”
Molango will join a players’ call with the Premier League on Thursday where Covid-related concerns will be aired, but club bosses have already taken the decision to play on.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson told the BBC he is concerned that player welfare is not taken seriously, and Molango believes it is vital players be “at the heart” of decisions that are taken.
“Players have shown a level of commitment and a level of understanding of the bigger picture, which I think would make them a legitimate party to certain conversations when it comes to deciding about something which impacts them directly,” he said.
“We need to be at the heart of the decision because ultimately, it is the players who are going to go out there and play and be the person who can potentially expose themselves to certain risks.
“Therefore it is only normal for them to be part of the conversation, as opposed to be informed thereafter.”
Molango says there has to be conversations about fixture congestion and player workload urgently, but said a bigger concern than England’s packed festive programme was the threat posed by plans to play more matches at European club level and national team level, with FIFA proposing biennial World Cups.
“We are committed to the local domestic competitions, because ultimately, this is the bread and butter of our players,” he said.
“Where it becomes a bit more difficult to understand is how the international calendar is organised, and how we keep putting in more and more fixtures which ultimately go in detriment to our own domestic calendar.
“We need to have a very serious conversation to make sure that people don’t end up playing 70 games a season. This is ultimately harming the quality of the product.
“What you will see on the pitch is not the best version of the players, it’s a B, C or D version of the people that we all admire.”
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