Some of the world’s top tennis players have said they do not want to receive a coronavirus vaccine, triggering a major debate within the sport.
Both the ATP and WTA governing bodies have called for players to be immunised, but insist they will not force them to be vaccinated.
Leading stars in both the men’s and women’s game – including Novak Djokovic and Elina Svitolina – have expressed scepticism over Covid-19 vaccines.
Last year, Djokovic said he was “opposed to vaccination” before embarking on a controversial exhibition tour in Serbia and Croatia that was attended by fans. The tennis star and three other players later tested positive for the virus.
He later claimed his comments about vaccinations had been taken out of context in the media, saying “my issue here with vaccines is if someone is forcing me to put something in my body. That I don’t want”.
In recent weeks, the debate over the vaccine has intensified.
Health bodies, including the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency, have repeatedly said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any risks.
What have players said?
During press conferences at this week’s Miami Open, journalist Ben Rothenberg quizzed a number of players about whether they planned to get a vaccine.
World number eight, Aryna Sabalenka, told a press conference that she did not “trust” the jab.
“They just make it, like really quick and there wasn’t enough time to test it and to see what can happen,” she said.” But she added that if she had to take it, she would.
“It’s tough to say, but I don’t really want it yet and I don’t want my family to take it.”
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian player Elina Svitolina said she had spoken with friends who told her to “wait a little while longer to see how it goes”.
“For now it makes almost like no sense to do something that has been tested for such a short period of time. I will probably wait for now,” she said.
Following the comments, the WTA released a statement saying it would “continue to educate our players on the various vaccines along with the benefits of getting vaccinated.”
“The WTA believes in and will encourage everyone to get a vaccine,” the statement said.
In the men’s game, top 10 player Andrey Rublev said: “For the moment [the vaccine] doesn’t really give you any privilege”.
He said that players would still have to remain in a bubble while attending tournaments. “If you ask me if I can choose and I can have an option, I will not do it”.
The ATP issued a statement on Tuesday that said it “recommends Covid-19 vaccination based on scientific evidence supporting the health benefits and protection provided“.
Players Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka said they would take the jab. Simona Halep has already had the vaccine in her home country of Romania and was one of the first tennis players to do so.
Last November, Andy Murray said players should “probably” be required to take a vaccine to be able to continue to play. He added that he hoped they would “do that for the good of the sport”.
What’s happening in other sports?
In the US, both the Major Baseball League and National Basketball Association have encouraged players to be vaccinated and offered incentives such as no longer having to wear masks when gathering with others.
Two weeks after getting the second dose of the jab, they will be allowed to have vaccinated family members join them while travelling, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Formula 1 declined an offer from Bahrain to vaccinate all personnel attending pre-season testing and the year’s opening grand prix. The Gulf state said it offered the vaccine as part of its vaccination programme, which it was extending to events in the country. A number of teams and F1 personnel, including some drivers, took up the offer.
Footballers in the UK have not been offered the vaccine but last month England manager Gareth Southgate called for them to be immunised. He said the sport had a “responsibility” to players who “we are asking to keep playing”.