Football icon accused of ‘encouraging vaccine suspicion’ after raising heart-scare cases
Medical staff at football clubs have reportedly accused high-profile former stars of encouraging vaccine hesitancy among current players by highlighting a spate of on-pitch heart scares.
The English Premier League recently revealed that 77% of its stars are fully vaccinated against Covid while 84% are on “the vaccination journey” – meaning they have had at least one jab.
That rate lags someway behind other top leagues in Europe, with Italy’s Serie A, the German Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga all reporting full vaccination rates of over 90% among players.
The Premier League has seen a surge of cancelations in recent weeks as Covid outbreaks have struck teams across the league, with some suggesting the blame lies with unvaccinated stars.
According to a report in the New York Times, which looked at the reasons behind vaccine reluctance, medics at some clubs cited the likes of former England internationals Matt Le Tissier and Trevor Sinclair as “encouraging suspicion” of Covid jabs by referring to on-field heart scares.
Football has seen several high-profile cases of players suffering heart problems in recent months, including the shocking collapse of Denmark star Christian Eriksen at Euro 2020 and the retirement of Barcelona forward Sergio Aguero.
Ex-West Ham and Manchester City player Sinclair – who became a TV pundit after his retirement – posted a controversial tweet in November in which he pondered: “Everyone I speak to about these heart problems suffered by footballers (which worryingly seem to be happening more regularly) are they linked to covid vaccines or not??”
Elsewhere, Southampton legend Le Tissier – known as one of the most skillful stars of his generation – has been a vocal critic of vaccine mandates.
Appearing on GB News earlier this month, he demanded an inquiry into the series of players who have suffered heart scares, which was added to by Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof in his team's most recent match against Norwich City.
“It’s been very concerning for me, watching the sport that I love and that I played for 17 years,” said Le Tissier, 53.
'It might not be because of the vaccine, but let's have an investigation to find out what it is. Even saying that deems you to be some kind of anti-vaxxer, which is absolutely disgusting.'Ex-footballer Matt Le Tissier wonders why footballers are suffering from heart problems. pic.twitter.com/qlYAXI62iY— GB News (@GBNEWS) December 16, 2021
“And it’s been very concerning to me that in all that time I never once saw any footballer leave the pitch because of heart issues.
“Now I’m sorry, but if anybody can look at what is happening now in the world of sport and say it’s normal for all of these people to be having heart issues in football matches, cricket matches, basketball matches, any sport you wish.
“The amount of people that are suffering is going through the roof. And I would call for an investigation because it might not be to do with the vaccines.
“But let's have an investigation to find out what it is. But even saying that deems you to be some kind of anti-vaxxer.
“I want people to look at what is happening in football, have a proper investigation, and give us some answers as to why so many sportspeople are suffering from heart issues. It’s not difficult.”
Doctors such as Professor Sanjay Sharma, the UK’s leading sports cardiologist, have been adamant that the jab is not to blame, telling the Daily Mail that “my feeling is that this is probably a statistical cluster rather than something on the rise.”
Sharma said the cases involving Eriksen and Aguero, among others, “were nothing to do with Covid or the vaccine.”
After Eriksen's collapse in the summer, officials at his former club Inter Milan also moved to quell speculation by stating that he had not been vaccinated.
Some have pointed to the increased intensity of the game as a potential cause of heart issues in players, or the fact that cases tend to be amplified now because of increased media scrutiny and through social media.
Speaking on vaccine hesitancy among Premier League players, the head of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) admitted some stars might have “legitimate concerns”.
“What we have learned is that it is not as simple as saying it is only about the vaccination. That is only one piece of the puzzle,” PFA chief executive Maheta Molango told the BBC.
“[The players] are the same people that a few months ago, when I was at home and most people were at home, were told go out and play with no vaccines, that there were ‘no worries, you are going to be fine’. That is the reality...
“We are trying to help the players make the right choice based on science. They need to listen to the experts but at the same time, we have to acknowledge that certain people may have legitimate concerns.”
Reports have suggested that unvaccinated players at Premier League clubs could soon face segregation from their teammates in areas such as traveling to matches and dining arrangements.
Despite the rash of outbreaks among a host of clubs, the league voted against a 'festive firebreak' and will aim to complete as many matches as possible during the traditionally congested Christmas and New Year period.