RLPA supports NRL’s Covid-19 vaccine policy but concedes situation could soon become more complex
The Rugby League Players Association says it supports the NRL’s decision not to mandate vaccination for players, but concedes those who refuse the jab could be out of a job if state government health orders are revised before the 2022 season kicks off.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo confirmed this week the NRL would not follow the AFL’s lead and make vaccination compulsory for its players.
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“We’re not taking an approach of making this mandatory, consistent with the way the federal and state governments are,” Abdo said on auzbiz.com.au’s The Front Office.
On Friday, RLPA chief executive Clint Newton told NCA NewsWire the players’ association and the NRL were “in this together”.
“Our position has been consistent with the NRL’s all along,” he said.
Newton, who played for the Knights, Storm and Panthers, has been the chief executive of the RLPA since March 2020. Picture: Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images
Newton said while the vast majority of players had complied with the PA’s recommendation to become vaccinated, some remained hesitant to do so at the conclusion of the 2021 season.
The RLPA said its focus was now on educating and supporting those players.
The RLPA said vaccination was a personal choice, but admitted the employment of anti-vax players may be untenable in season 2022, should vaccine mandates become widespread across airlines and/or the eastern states.
So far, Victoria is the only state requiring professional athletes to become vaccinated against Covid-19, but if that changes, Newton said there would be “challenges” for unvaccinated players hoping to continue their first grade careers.
In the meantime, the RLPA is working with the NRL to develop a policy for handling unvaccinated players from November 1, when off-contract players will be able to negotiate with rival clubs, but will still be subject to government restrictions due to their vaccination status.
Newton said until statewide vaccine mandates were implemented, the RLPA expected NRL clubs would employ unvaccinated players.
“What we don’t want to see is players’ futures being decided by ‘what-ifs’,” Newton said.
The RLPA said it would remain in dialogue with the NRL and continue to assess the situation if vaccine mandates became concrete.
Given players are currently on leave, Newton said the RLPA had not yet been able to ascertain how many had chosen not to become vaccinated. A handful, including Dylan Walker, Josh Papalii, Bryce Cartwright, Brian Kelly, Joseph Tapine and Addin Fonua-Blake, raised concerns with having a flu shot in mid-2020 as the NRL looked to recommence after the initial Covid-19 lockdown.
On Thursday, Kelly, a centre for the Gold Coast Titans, posted an image to his Instagram story that appeared to question the logic of vaccine mandates.
Brian Kelly posted this image to his Instagram story on Thursday. Image: Instagram
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