Sport

“I Have No More Tears”: Athletes in Despair Over Covid Quarantine Conditions at Beijing Winter Olympics

Event organisers of the Winter Olympics in China are facing a litany of complaints from athletes and countries on multiple fronts, especially over the COVID-19 isolation arrangements. The Guardian has more.

The Polish speed skater Natalia Maliszewska, who was forced to miss the 500m short track event on Saturday, revealed that she had faced fear and uncertainty in a Beijing isolation ward after testing positive for Covid.

“Since a week I have been living in fear and these changes in mood,” she said. “I cry until I have no more tears and make not only the people around me worry but myself too,” she said.

Those in an isolation ward are allowed out if they are free of symptoms and have two negative Covid tests 24 hours apart and Maliszewska was eventually released back to the Olympic village – before being told there had been a mistake.

“People got me out of my room at 3am,” she said. “This night was a horror, I slept in my clothes in my bed because I was afraid that at any moment someone would take me back to isolation. Then a message that unfortunately they were mistaken, that I am a threat, and should not have been released from isolation.

“I have to get back to the Olympic Village as soon as possible,” she added. “I can’t understand this anymore. I no longer believe in any tests, any Olympics. To me this is a big joke, I hope whoever is managing this has a lot of fun. My heart and my mind can’t take this anymore.”

More than 350 Games participants, including dozens of athletes, have tested positive upon arrival in the Chinese capital since January 23rd. Many are still in isolation, fearing their Games are over.

One of those is the Finnish ice hockey player Marko Anttila, whose team believes he is being kept in COVID-19 isolation for no reason. “From a medical perspective we know that a person like this is no longer infectious, no danger to the other team,” Finnish doctor Maarit Valtonen said. “These isolation decisions are not based on medicine or science, it’s more cultural and political decisions.”

The Finland head coach Jukka Jalonen said that the situation was affecting Anttila’s mental health. “We know that he’s fully healthy and that’s why we think that China, for some reason, won’t respect his human rights and that’s not a great situation,” he added.

The Russian biathlon competitor Valeria Vasnetsova also recently expressed her experiences of being in a quarantine hotel, posting on Instagram: “My stomach hurts, I’m very pale and I have huge black circles around my eyes. I want all this to end. I cry every day. I’m very tired.”

Vasnetsova posted a picture of what she said was “breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days already” – a tray with food including plain pasta, an orange sauce, a piece of meat on a bone, a few potatoes and no greens.

There are also general complaint about the food, with Germany’s coach Christian Schwaiger lamenting there was no hot food available for athletes: “The catering is extremely questionable, because really it’s not catering at all. I would have expected that the Olympic Committee is capable of providing hot meals. There are crisps, some nuts and chocolate and nothing else.”

The IOC said it was working with Beijing 2022 to address the issues, adding about the situation in the Covid hotels: “We feel for every athlete who cannot compete because of a COVID-19 infection. The protocols have been put in place to ensure safe Olympic Games for everyone.”

It’s for your safety so suck it up and stop complaining. Will it ever end?

Worth reading in full.

EFL Stops Match-Day Testing to Prevent Fixture Disruption

The English Football League (EFL), which is composed of all professional football clubs in the Championship, League One, and League Two, has announced that match-day testing will be stopped in order to limit the impact of fixture disruption, which has become a potent problem over the festive period. After receiving advice from medical experts, the EFL will now only conduct match-day tests on players if they express symptoms. The Times has the story.

The EFL has scrapped match-day testing for Covid in an attempt to limit fixture disruption for clubs and supporters.

The decision has been taken after consultation with medical advisers after it became clear that the existing requirement was causing concern and uncertainty at clubs as well as affecting fans.

Cancellations of matches due to the combination of Covid and injuries have been widespread throughout the EFL, with last-minute postponements bringing practical and financial challenges.

Over the past week, EFL chiefs have sought advice from medics and have now decided to remove match-day testing, other than for any symptomatic individuals. Correspondence to clubs was circulated yesterday.

The approach is supported by the league’s board, executive and a significant number of club doctors and fits with the EFL’s commitment to play matches. They insist the health and safety of players is not being compromised.

The decision was also taken in the knowledge that players are effectively in a bubble leading up to a game and, for example, may be with the team in a hotel. They are not out socialising.

An EFL spokesman said: “Over the past week, it has become clear that the requirement for match-day testing has caused significant concern and uncertainty at clubs as well as seriously affecting the supporters of those teams.

“As a result, the League revisited the matter with its Medical Advisors and after careful consideration, which included dialogue with a significant number of club doctors, it was determined that the requirement for matchday testing would be removed, except for those individuals who display Covid symptoms.

Worth reading in full.

Unvaccinated Sports Stars Now Unable to Play in Italy

Italy has introduced a mandatory vaccination requirement for all outdoor sports competitors, with those entering the country to play in international tournaments also subjected to the same rules. This would mean that any unjabbed English rugby player will be excluded from the squad, which is due to play Italy in the Six Nations on February 13th. MailOnline has more.

Italy has joined France in making vaccination compulsory for anyone wanting to play outdoor team sports, meaning Premier League players will need to be jabbed in order to move to Serie A this January. 

The Italian Government met this week to implement urgent changes to its Covid restrictions, with every sportsperson in the country, from the professional game to the amateur divisions, needing a ‘Green Pass’ in order to take part.

The ‘Green Pass’ is given out 15 days after a person has been vaccinated for the first time, with the Covid passport-style document also needed to enter swimming pools, festivals, religious buildings, hotels and public transport.

It is unlikely to affect Italy’s top football division as it was revealed earlier this month that 98% of all Serie A footballers are double-jabbed in a league that has been unaffected by the Omicron variant so far.

It is not known how many Liverpool players are vaccinated, though the Premier League did reveal that 16% of top-flight footballers are yet to receive their first dose of the vaccine. 

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has been fully supportive of players getting vaccinated and claimed earlier this month that the club would not be signing any new players who have not had both doses. 

“I think it (being vaccinated) will be influential, definitely, in who clubs sign,” said the Liverpool manager. “If a player is not vaccinated at all, he is a constant threat for all of us.

“He doesn’t want to be a threat, it’s not that he thinks ‘I don’t care about the others’ but he is.”

Meanwhile, the England rugby team go to Italy on February 13th for their Six Nations clash, so any players who are not jabbed will be banned from playing. 

The new restrictions, which will begin on January 6 when Serie A resumes after its winter break, also affect the fans, who will need a ‘Green Pass’ in order to enter stadia at any level. 

Those sports stars who are double-jabbed will also be exempt from any quarantine rules, but are advised to wear a mask for up to a week after their arrival. 

Worth reading in full.

Five Bayern Munich Players Hit With Pay Cut For Refusing to Get Vaccinated

Five unvaccinated footballers who play for German club Bayern Munich have had their wages docked by the club as they have had to spend time in quarantine due to being in close proximity to a Covid-positive person. The football club had previously stated that they will not pay the wages of any player forced into self-isolation as a result of their personal choice not to receive the vaccine. Recently, the five footballers have also been banned from staying in the same hotel as the vaccinated players due to Germany tightening its Covid restrictions. MailOnline has the story.

Bayern Munich have docked the wages of their five unvaccinated players who were forced to quarantine due to coming into contact with a Covid-positive person. 

Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich, Jamal Musiala, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Michael Cuisance have all been told by the German club that they will not be paid for every game or day of training they miss when self-isolating after they all refused to get the vaccine.

According to German news outlet Bild, Bayern told the players last week that they would be withholding pay if anyone missed work due to being unvaccinated.

The report comes days after Bayern suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of local rivals Augsburg on Friday, which saw Kimmich, the midfield star for both Bayern and Germany, miss the encounter after he was forced to quarantine.

Gnabry started that match, while Musiala and Choupo-Moting came on as substitutes, while Cuisance was an unused substitute. Those four players were all then placed into quarantine following a new exposure to Covid, hours after the reports about pay cuts emerged in Germany.

Their Bayern team-mates Niklas Sule and Josip Stanisic had tested positive for Covid last week, with the club confirming that those two players were vaccinated.

Tensions are high in Germany with the country in the grip of a fourth wave of cases and many hospitals full. It has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe, with 68% of people fully vaccinated. “By the end of this winter everyone in Germany will either be vaccinated, recovered or dead,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday.  

The news of withheld wages comes less than a week after the five Bayern players were told that they have been banned from staying in the same hotel as their team-mates ahead of a match and must travel to games separately too due to tightening restrictions in the country, which is experiencing a spike in Covid cases. 

German news publication Kicker are reporting that the five players are irritated that news of their docked wages has been leaked publicly.

The damning report also revealed that there has been a loss of trust from the players, with team morale low as a result.

Worth reading in full.

Djokovic’s Vaccine Stance May Cost Him Entry to the Australian Open

We’re publishing a guest post today by David Hansard, a writer who has previous contributed to Quillette, the Conservative Woman and Cumbria magazine. It’s about the principled refusal of Novak Djokovic to refuse to disclose his vaccine status and the risks he’s taking in doing so.

Daniel Andrews, the self-satisfied Premier of Victoria, has said it is doubtful unvaccinated tennis players will be allowed to take part in the Australian Open in January.

Few are surprised by what Andrews said. It is entirely in keeping with his authoritarian response to Covid, which seems to get more dictatorial by the day. He is not alone among politicians. But like others in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, his policies seem to be reaching new heights of illiberalism.

Nine-times Australian Open winner, and world number one, Novak Djokovic, in particular, is not happy.

Djokovic first made his views about vaccinations known some months ago. He believes it should be a personal choice free of any pressure, let alone mandated. Last week, when asked, he refused to say if he has been vaccinated. He added: “It is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry. People go too far these days in taking the liberty to ask questions and judge a person.” 

I think it safe to say he has not been vaccinated.

Novak Djokovic Tells Reporters to Back Off on Asking about Vaccination Status: “It’s a Private Matter”

Footballers haven’t been the only sportspeople to be barraged by invasive questions about their Covid vaccination status. Tennis players have received the same treatment, but Novak Djokovic is standing his ground, saying reporters are “taking the liberty” to ask whether he has been jabbed and “judg[ing] a person” for not giving the ‘correct’ answer. RT has the story.

World number one Djokovic has repeatedly expressed his reservations about players being pressured to take a Covid jab, and the reigning Australian Open champion insists his decision is a “private matter” amid a string of controversies surrounding the likes of NBA star Kyrie Irving, who has been left out by the Brooklyn Nets because he is not vaccinated.

Djokovic rival Stefanos Tsitsipas found himself at the center of a political row after he made a wide range of remarks about Covid and vaccines, and the Greek – whose own Government seemed to distance themselves from views which appeared to include a suggestion that spreading the virus could have positive effects – now appears to be willing to be vaccinated.

Russian contender Andrey Rublev has become the latest player to drop their apparent reluctance because of the logistical issues not being vaccinated could cause, but Djokovic is yet to openly say he has had the treatment.

“Things being as they are, I still don’t know if I will go to Melbourne,” Djokovic told Blic, speaking ahead of a first Grand Slam of the year in January which is likely to take place under tight restrictions.

“I will not reveal my status, whether I have been vaccinated or not – it is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry.

“People go too far these days in taking the liberty to ask questions and judge a person.

“Whatever you say – ‘yes, no, maybe, I am thinking about it’ – they will take advantage.”

Daniel Andrews, the Premier of the state of Victoria, has reiterated how difficult it could be for unvaccinated stars to travel to the country, explaining that they may not be allowed in.

“I don’t think an unvaccinated tennis player is going to get a visa to come into this country,” predicted the politician.

“If they did get a visa, they’d probably have to quarantine for a couple of weeks when no other players will have to.

“I don’t think any other tennis player or golfer or Formula One driver will even get a visa to get here.

“Professional sport is part of that authorised worker list and they have to be double-dose vaccinated.”

Worth reading in full.

Premier League Has “Worst Vaccination Rate” in the World of Sport

Government and sports officials continue to apply pressure on Premier League football which is said to have the “worst vaccination rate in the world”. They have been left wondering how else they can increase uptake now that suggestions of rewards for clubs with high jab rates and an ‘education campaign’ featuring Professor Jonathan Van Tam, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, appear to have fallen flat among players. The Mail on Sunday has the story.

Mail on Sunday survey has found that almost all other top leagues have a much higher vaccine take-up rate than English football.

Even tennis – which has had a similar issue with vaccine hesitancy – is threatening to outstrip English football, with the take-up rate on the ATP Tour having improved by around 20% over the past six weeks.

Rival sports have attributed their success to reasons that include top athletes promoting the jab and tougher restrictions for unvaccinated players, neither of which have happened in the Premier League.

This has been done in some American sports such as the NFL, who have more than 95% of their players and staff fully-vaccinated despite a number of high-profile refuseniks with some franchises as high as 100%.

They credit star players and coaches coming out as strong vocal advocates for vaccination as a key factor in their high number, such as Superbowl-winning coach Bruce Arians.

“That has had a huge impact in dressing rooms,” NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills told the Mail on Sunday. “Young and less experienced players look up to them and want to be as successful in the same way. It speaks to have people who have the trust of the players. That has been incredibly important.”

The Premier League has lacked such a spokesperson among top players with conspiracy theories about virility and heart defects being shared amongst WhatsApp groups.

They were unable to persuade its players to take part in a similar publicity campaign despite myth-bunking [sic] videos from… Jonathan Van-Tam. …

The Premier League still lags behind. Of its 20 clubs, 13 were understood to have vaccination rates of less than 50%, according to a letter sent to clubs in September. This figure is likely to have risen slightly.

The most recent set of Football League figures, revealed by Sportsmail last week, had just 49% of players fully vaccinated. A quarter of EFL players effectively said they were not planning to get jabbed.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccine Passports to Be Checked at England Rugby Matches

Vaccine passports are alive and well, despite the Government’s scrapping of its plans, with certification set to be required at upcoming England rugby matches. In order to attend, fans will need proof either of having been vaccinated against Covid, of recently testing negative or of recently having recovered from the virus. Given plans to scrap free Covid testing, options available to fans may soon become even more limited. The Telegraph has the story.

The Rugby Football Union announced on Tuesday that the visits of Tonga, Australia and world champions South Africa next month would witness the use of so-called Covid passports.

The fixtures, set to be England’s first in front of a packed Twickenham since last year’s Six Nations, will see spot checks carried out to ensure adults attending are either fully vaccinated, have taken a negative test up to 48 hours earlier, or have natural immunity.

Welcoming back “capacity crowds”, the RFU said: “There will be more checks prior to entry than normal for everyone attending, whether as a fan or here to work. Please arrive early and allow more time than usual to access the stadium.”

England last played in front of a packed Twickenham on March 7th 2020 when they beat Wales 33-30 in a thrilling Six Nations game.

That was the final weekend before the tournament was effectively suspended due to the coronavirus crisis.

And it’s not just rugby:

Formula 1 medical driver Alan van der Merwe was on Tuesday night facing being banned from the climax of the season after it emerged he had refused to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

Van der Merwe and anyone else unjabbed who would otherwise travel to a Grand Prix were in danger of being prevented from attending the final three races in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

Proof of vaccination is currently required in the former two countries, while it is also expected to be necessary for access to the paddock at the latter race.

That could see some of the hundreds of personnel that normally travel to a Grand Prix banned from attending unless granted an exemption to do so.

That would include any unvaccinated drivers, although a source told Telegraph Sport it was thought all of them had been double-jabbed.

Van der Merwe and F1 doctor Ian Roberts both missed Sunday’s Turkish GP after testing positive for Covid. …

He [said]: “I am fully aware that I will potentially be less employable or that my freedom of movement will be restricted based on my choices.

“That I will not choose convenience over my own health does not mean I am making decisions out of selfishness. We all just want to be healthy.”

Worth reading in full.

Premier League to Reward Clubs with Highest Numbers of Vaccinated Players

Amid concerns of a low vaccine uptake among professional footballers, the Premier League has sent a briefing note to all 20 clubs outlining that the body might reward teams for making sure their players are double jabbed. What these potential incentives may be remains unclear. In addition, the Premier League has cited concerns over international travel and the likelihood of vaccine passports being introduced in the near future. The Mail has the story.

The Premier League has written to clubs informing them of plans to “reward” teams who have the highest numbers of vaccinated players

Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante was confirmed on Tuesday as the latest player to contract Covid, forcing him to miss his side’s Champions League clash against Juventus on Wednesday night. 

And Sportsmail can reveal that in a briefing note sent to clubs last week, the Premier League are stepping up their efforts to ensure more players are fully vaccinated due to fears over a slow uptake.

The document read: “According to the data we have, only seven clubs’ squads are more than 50% fully vaccinated, so we have a way to go.”

Sportsmail revealed last week that at least two Premier League sides have no more than six players vaccinated.

But Wolves, Brentford and Leeds have reported between 89 and 100% vaccination levels and there is growing optimism that the figures at other clubs will increase in the coming weeks.

The note continued: “We are considering if and how best we can ‘reward’ those squads/players who are most Covid-compliant and who have opted to be vaccinated.

“It is increasingly clear that full vaccination will be the key criteria for Government and health authorities, in terms of international travel and potential Covid certification at large scale events.”

Worth reading in full.

Unvaccinated Footballers Could Be Barred from Next World Cup

Qatar is believed to be pushing for unvaccinated footballers to be barred from playing in next year’s World Cup, with fans also having to show proof of full vaccination to attend matches. MailOnline has the story.

It is known that professional players’ views on taking the vaccine are mixed and there are some concerns Qatar’s stance could rob the tournament of its stars – something all parties want to avoid.

Qatar, who have already administered more than 4.6 million vaccines so far, roughly 82% of their population, are in discussions with FIFA and medical authorities in efforts to reach an amicable solution.

The Athletic claim a number of options are being considered, including uninoculated players having to report negative tests every three days. …

A number of Premier League clubs are known to have players still resisting the Covid vaccine, including Arsenal and Switzerland star Granit Xhaka.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted last month “not all of the players have been double-jabbed”, adding: “I have encouraged them to take the vaccination but you cannot force anyone to do that.” …

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce has admitted that “a lot” of his players have not been vaccinated…

Deputy Chief Medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam has been forthright in urging players to take up the vaccine and told them to ignore the myths around it. …

Worth reading in full.