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19 Aug, 2021 19:38

Tennis ace accused of ‘criminal irresponsibility’ after bizarrely claiming virus spread is ‘good’, young people don’t need vaccine

Tennis ace accused of ‘criminal irresponsibility’ after bizarrely claiming virus spread is ‘good’, young people don’t need vaccine

Greece's government has distanced itself from the country's top tennis star amid a row after he made a series of remarks about Covid-19, voicing concerns over vaccines and suggesting it would be "good" to let the virus spread.

World number three Stefanos Tsitsipas admitted earlier this week that he would only take a jab if it becomes mandatory, and the rising ace has now elaborated on his reservations, claiming that people who are of a similar age to the 23-year-old do not need to take a vaccine which he believes has not gone through sufficient trials.

The French Open finalist also bafflingly seemed to suggest that allowing the virus to pass through populations would be a positive step, repeating the herd immunity theory that has been described as “scientifically and ethically problematic” by the World Health Organization.

"For me, the vaccine has not been tested enough," explained Tsitsipas to SDNA, speaking at the Cincinnati Masters tournament in the US.

"It is new. It has some side effects – I personally know some people who have had them. I'm not against clarifying this, I just see no reason for someone in my age group to need to be vaccinated.

"I think the concept was [for vaccines] to be given to older people, if I'm not mistaken. It is not something we know too much about and, so far, it has not been given to us as a must on the tour, so there is no reason [to take one].

"For us young people, I think it is good to pass the virus, because we will build immunity. I do not see it as something bad. As I said, it is not obligatory – everyone has the freedom to decide for themselves what is right and what is not.

"At some point we should all do it, I'm not saying the opposite. The time will come when we will not be given many options, but until then I want to see a better version of the vaccine that gives us more pluses than minuses."

Giannis Oikonomou, a spokesperson for Greece's ruling New Democracy party, was asked about Tsitsipas's remarks in light of the star previously appearing to back government healthcare efforts during the pandemic.

"Stefanos Tsitsipas did not participate in the campaign in favor of vaccination but in the campaign in favor of protection measures," he said. "Stefanos Tsitsipas is a great athlete; his skills in sports and his contribution to sports in the country is unquestionable.

"What is at stake, however, is his ability to assess the need for vaccinations or whether the vaccine has been tested for a sufficient period of time. And it is questionable whether he has [built] the knowledge, studies and research work that would allow him to form an opinion about it.

"These issues are analyzed, informed by the society and placed by those who have studied them, those who have [explored] them through their medical function in Greece and in the rest of the world.

"It would be good to refer to [expertise]. I would say, for those who, through their excellent presence and performance in other places, are a point of reference for wider social groups, it would be good to be doubly careful in expressing such views."

One prominent medical figure, Mina Gaga, also responded to Tsitsipas in her position as director of the 7th Pulmonary Clinic of Athens' Sotiria hospital.

"In the last three months, we had to treat 229 young people aged up to 29 years old," she said. "They had severe pneumonia, needed oxygen support, high flow and non-invasive ventilation, and nine needed intensive care.

"The United States counts more than 2,500 deaths at this age. They are a few; aren't young people at risk?

"Stefane, be strong and keep playing tennis – that's where you make us proud."

Tsitsipas's father, Apostolos, suggested that his son would not need the vaccine. "Athletes have a strong enough immune system to deal with any challenge that may arise," he theorized.

"They take the necessary measures – masks, controlled movements – and are in a controlled environment and do PCR and antigen tests almost every day, as I imagine each of us needs."

Tsitsipas has courted criticism in his homeland on several occasions recently, including over his decisions to attend parties in Dubai over new year – which some saw as being reckless during a pandemic – and for remarks about luxury London department store Harrods.

The 2019 Tour Finals champion playfully tweeted that he wished Harrods had an outlet in Greece, which was interpreted by some as insensitive at a time when many Greeks are far from able to afford many of the extravagances Tsitsipas evidently could.

Tsitsipas senior defended his son on that occasion, but the Grand Slam contender has found an unflinching critic over his latest remarks in the form of Costas Kefalogiannis.

"We were in too much of a hurry to defend Stefanos Tsitsipas when he was photographed at a party in Dubai or when he was writing about Harrods, and now we cannot find a hiding place," wrote the columnist.

"At a time when the Delta mutation is galloping, young people are getting stuck and seriously ill and trying to persuade them to get vaccinated is crucial to avoiding dramatic situations in the fall, the top Greek tennis player of all time is showing criminal irresponsibility.

Also on rt.com Greek tennis ace Stefanos Tsitsipas refusing to take Covid vaccine unless it becomes mandatory to compete – report

"The fact that he was a central figure in a communication campaign against the coronavirus and [now says he is] in favor of individual responsibility just sends the situation to the limits of the ridiculous."

Kefalogiannis feels that Tsitsipas has neglected his responsibilities as a role model, although the object of his irritation insists that he is entitled to speak his mind.

"I did not say anything strange," said Tsitsipas. "Everyone has their own point of view. If [we are] to play at diplomats and not be able to express our views on something specific, what is the reason for doing these interviews?

"Everyone has the right to do what he thinks is right. No-one can present a vaccine and force you to take it."

The second seed in Cincinnati is preparing to play Italian Lorenzo Sonego in the round of 16.

Also on rt.com ‘Please get your vaccine’: British tennis legend Murray hails ‘that first jab feeling’ as critics ask if he was paid for ‘advert’