Unvaxxed Chelsea players barred from Champions League tie
European champions Chelsea will have to leave their unvaccinated players in London when they travel to France to take on Lille in the last 16 of the Champions League, according to reports online, after UEFA opted against holding the game in a neutral venue to bypass the country's strict Covid-19 guidelines.
Rules imposed by the French government require all visitors to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 – and it now appears unlikely that UEFA will require Lille to move the fixture to a neutral venue in a country with less restrictive Covid-19 rules in order to allow unvaccinated stars to play.
French rules state that a person is considered fully vaccinated if they have a received a booster shot within the last months, in addition to their original vaccination.
It is currently unclear who remains unvaccinated within the Chelsea squad as vaccine status and personal health issues remain confidential – but Blues boss Thomas Tuchel has suggested that the restriction will cause issues when he is selecting his squad, telling the media that the guidelines could “create problems for us in not being able to use key players."
“They [the players] are aware of it. And at some point, everybody who is not vaccinated will face some consequences,” the German, who missed Chelsea's recent FA Cup win against Plymouth Argyle after contracting Covid, said in January.
“Does that make it wrong that they are not? I’m not so sure about it; I simply don’t know. I took my decision for myself. For us, isolated as a club, isolated as a football team, there can be huge consequences.”
Tuchel is currently leading his team from afar as he continues to follow protocol in London following his positive test.
First-team coach Zsolt Low and club legend Petr Cech are among the staff members with the team in Abu Dhabi ahead of Chelsea's FIFA Club World Cup semifinal against Al Hilal on Wednesday.
Tuchel has previously said that he doesn't support the idea of mandatory vaccinations – even if several of his squad members, including midfielders N'Golo Kante and Kai Havertz, have missed games due to Covid infections.
“We are only a reflection of society and the players have a free choice if they want to get vaccinated or not,” he observed in September 2021.
“I think we should accept it and this is more or less everything I can say. I know the situation is far from over and all the time somebody gets it here from us and from our crew, it make you very aware it is not over. I hope it [eases as much] as possible but I clearly don't have the solution for it.
“It would be easy to say yes [the players should get the vaccine to set an example] now and get applause from a lot of people but at the same time, do I have the right to say it? I'm not so sure. I can make the decision for myself and everybody else needs to reflect about it, take a risk or not.”
The rules for unvaccinated sportspeople vary depending on the country they are attempting to visit.
Unvaccinated world number one Novak Djokovic's recent plight when he tried to gain entry to Australia for the first Grand Slam of 2022 was a high-profile case of a top athlete being refused entry to a country regardless of his sporting stature.
The French rules seem to be particularly difficult to bypass, especially given President Emmanuel Macron's recent comments to Le Parisien in which he said he had a "strategy" to “really piss off” unvaccinated people.
Djokovic is expected to be denied entry to the French Open, which begins in May, unless he receives a full vaccine dose.
Chelsea play the first leg of their tie with Lille in London on February 22 before the return fixture in France on March 16.