Arm players with more information to combat vaccine hesitancy and Covid outbreaks

With Arsenal and Rangers’ squads decimated by coronavirus outbreaks, we could be heading for a winter of discontent if a better strategy is not adopted across the leagues in Britain, writes Laura Lawrence.

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There have been plenty of column inches over the last weekend dedicated to the theme of ‘what is wrong with Arsenal’?

The general gist of most is that there is no strategy or direction and too much reliance on youth but most of the articles failed to mention another issue: Covid-19.

Of course, we would love to get away from talking about coronavirus. It’s dominated our lives for over 18 months. Can’t we just get back to watching football? Well, yes and no if you’re an Arsenal fan.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Willian and Runar Alex Runarsson all missed the opening match to newly-promoted Brentford.

On Friday, new £50million signing Ben White was placed in isolation after contracting the virus. In total Arsenal were missing nine senior players. White won’t be available for their trip to Manchester City next weekend, extending the Gunners’ woes.

This virus lingers. Aubameyang is reportedly struggling with the after effects of coronavirus. As long Covid is a real issue, can players really afford to risk their health?

What we don’t know is if any of Arsenal’s players are vaccinated. While the vaccine won’t stop them contracting and transmitting the disease, the research suggests that rates would be lower, the symptoms statistically less severe and reduce the risk of hospitalisation.

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Across football and sport in general there appears to be a reluctance to take the vaccine. As athletes treat their body as temples, it’s understandable that they would be unwilling to inject themselves with something that is still being researched. The latest studies have suggested that the vaccine’s protection may wane after six months.

It’s a real dilemma and an epidemic of misinformation continues to sweep through sport. The lack of clarity about vaccine health is causing issues at clubs like Arsenal. Newcastle United manager, Steve Bruce, confirmed “a lot” of his players aren’t vaccinated mainly due to “conspiracy theories”. Newcastle were without three of their goalkeepers during pre-season due to them contracting Covid. Karl Darlow was so ill he lost two stone in five days when he was hospitalised.

Neil Warnock and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have also voiced concerns about the lack of take up of the vaccine. It isn’t mandatory and players should have the choice to take it only if they want to but there also needs to be a consistent approach to testing.

Going into the new season some clubs were testing players and some not. EFL guidance had two sets of protocols: the green protocol means daily screening to check for symptoms; the red protocol is triggered if there is a local breakout and government restrictions are applied. This is the extent of the guidance. Testing is down to individual clubs to conduct which is inconsistent across the league.

The Premier League is a little more reliable with twice weekly PCR testing. Twelve more cases were announced in the last week and Rangers have recorded positive cases ahead of the Old Firm derby on Sunday.

With international fixtures being affected by players not being released to red-list countries, and the Champions and Europa Leagues about to start in earnest, the issue of fact-based information about the vaccine being provided to footballers is essential.

After two matches it’s hard to tell whether speculation about Arsenal’s descent is strategy-based but it is clear that a better approach to Covid-19 is needed at the club and across the leagues. If not, we could be heading towards a winter of discontent — and not just at the Emirates.

Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR

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