Rugby Union

Rugby boss says players risk future employment if they refuse Covid vaccine

Vaccination status has emerged as a tribalistic battleground in 2021, but Sale Sharks director Alex Sanderson isn’t entertaining the topic as a matter of debate at AJ Bell Stadium.

Lines have been drawn in the proverbial sand regarding the coronavirus vaccine, with some framing any form of jab mandate as an infringement on civil liberties.

It’s a difficult matter to address in the sphere of professional sports, where athletes represent not only themselves as individuals, but their organisations and team-mates as well.

This summer alone has seen the Rugby Championship and the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa disrupted by Covid-19 outbreaks, with games postponed or cancelled altogether as a result.

Sale open their Premiership campaign at home to Bath on Saturday, and Sanderson isn’t willing to take such risks with his own staff, saying refusal to get vaccinated could even see players leave the club.

“To start with, we’ve tried to educate them as best we can,” he told The Telegraph.

“Our doctor has sent numerous emails regarding rumours surrounding negative effects and the positives of having the vaccine. These are doctors. They are ethically-bound to give the correct information.

“Still, it is a choice. But the consequences of them not having it are not being able to travel, not being able to play in every arena if vaccine passports come in. Even though they’ve got rid of that [idea], it might come back in. You never know when vaccination cards are received, are the consequences. Even if they got rid of that [idea], it could come back in. You never know.

“The knock-on effect of that is that it could be detrimental to selection and therefore future employment. That’s the reality. We haven’t sugar-coated it. We’ve been brutally honest.

“If your stance on it is that strong, we will respect it but that’s a discussion that we will have down the line depending on the consequences of [players] not taking it. We’ve left it to them, given them all the information and said: ‘It’s your choice’.”

Some players have been more vocal than others when it comes to vaccine skepticism, a phenomenon that’s seen countless rumours gain traction without much by way of evidence.

Certain national teams have enforced the jab as mandatory in order to travel this summer, but the issue becomes more complicated in a domestic league where crossing borders isn’t necessary.

It was recently confirmed Premiership clubs will be allowed to work under eased coronavirus restrictions when 85 per cent of their squad and staff have been fully vaccinated.

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It’s an incentive encouraging clubs to ensure their players get the vaccine, and Sanderson said Sale are close to meeting the marker, adding “all we’ve got to do is follow up with a number of people for their second jab.”

Despite rules in the United Kingdom now allowing for greater freedom in regards to contact, Premiership clubs will be required to maintain social distancing unless they meet the 85 per cent quota.

Sanderson, 41, will want as few distractions as possible in his first full season as Sale director, having rejoined his old club in January after 16 years as a coach at Saracens.

The former England back-rower made 90 appearances for the Sharks as a player and helped the team finish as Premiership semi-finalists last term, where they lost out to Exeter Chiefs.

The club ended that campaign with 74 points, matching the all-time best total they achieved en route to winning their sole Premiership crown in 2006.

Improving on that will be no easy feat for Sanderson, though he's already stamping his authority on the club and has outlined the minimum expected for Sale to thrive together.

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