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The world of professional sport is not immune to vaccine-skeptics. If team sports seem better equipped to fight against mistrust in the face of Covid-19 vaccines, the champions of individual disciplines do not hesitate to speak openly of their reluctance. Tennis seems particularly affected.

Sport is very often the reflection of the debates which cross the company. And while a segment of the world population is wary of vaccines against Covid-19, some athletes are doing the same. A reluctance that is often more significant in individual disciplines, such as tennis. Faced with this mistrust, other athletes, although vaccinated, are reluctant to promote vaccination.

Often traveling, in regular contact with unknown people, professional athletes are a prime target for the spread of Covid-19. On paper, vaccination is the perfect solution for a return to normalcy, after the total paralysis of the world of sport at the start of the pandemic and its unblocking thanks to restrictive health protocols. However, athletes are much more reserved.

“The top athlete is a fragile being. His body is something he has to control, master. He must be attentive to it. In fact, anything that will question him or disrupt his training is going to be a sensitive subject. He constantly wonders about the best way to overcome a physical or psychological failure, multiplying contacts with medical ‘specialists’, notes Patrick Mignon, sports sociologist, retired after several years spent working within the National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance (INSEP), interviewed by France 24. “These factors, combined with the debates that the vaccine provokes, mean that we have to deal with a population which may prove to be more reluctant to the vaccination.”

The Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, world number 3, hit the headlines before the US Open tennis tournament. He said he refused to be vaccinated: “For me, the vaccine has not been tested enough, it has side effects,” he explained. “I see no reason to vaccinate someone in my age group. For young people, I think it is good to overcome this virus to build their immunity.”

In the ranks of tennis, he is not alone in this niche. Novak Djokovic himself has never hidden his reluctance to the vaccine and hopes that it will not become compulsory to compete in tournaments. Among women, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka have also expressed their hesitation.

Big names, such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray have proudly said that they were vaccinated. Victoria Azarenka, 2020 US Open finalist, pleaded for mandatory vaccination

“I want to restart the discussion,” she explained at a press conference on Wednesday, September 1, after qualifying for the 3rd round. In my opinion, it is inevitable that it will be made compulsory at some point, as the other sports leagues. I don’t see the point in delaying that, because we all want to be safe, we all want to keep doing our jobs. ”

The circuit remains divided and has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the professional world: just over 50% for ATP, around 50% for WTA.

Individual sports versus team sports

Sociologist Patrick Mignon notes, however, that it is necessary to differentiate the situations between team sports and individual disciplines: “Tennis players are self-entrepreneurs, while football or basketball players belong to a company. They are the employees of a team or a club, ”he explains. “There is therefore a major difference: the existence of a framework capable of constraining the voice of athletes. The tennis player only represents himself if he has to deal with the will of the federations and the organizers. ”

In this typology, the researcher also distinguishes a third voice: the individual disciplines where the weight of the federation is strong, like athletics and judo, for the individual courses which “thus find themselves somewhat in the same situation than team sports “.

Collective disciplines are thus better immune to generalized mistrust. Ligue 1, like France, has record vaccination rates: more than 90% of players at PSG, 100% at OM, which has even launched a campaign of “stories” to encourage its fans to vaccinate … In NFL, 93% of players are vaccinated, 95% in MLS and 90% in NBA in the United States.

It must be said that these leagues have adopted restrictive approaches. The NBA has announced that it will follow local vaccination regulations. Consequence: Unvaccinated players from New York and Golden State (California) can no longer play at home. Referees, on the other hand, must be vaccinated.

The NFL has enacted even more severe regulations to force the championship antivaxers to receive the injection: any club which cannot field a team because of the coronavirus will have lost the game; each team member will lose a week’s salary and performance bonuses, while unvaccinated members will be subject to an additional fine of $ 14,000.

“In team sports, we prefer to wash dirty laundry as a family rather than making individual proclamations. The big mouths are relatively rare and supervised ”, notes Patrick Mignon.

The fact remains that despite the iron glove, players resist and continue to be wary. In NFL, Buffalo Bill wide receiver Cole Beasley released a rap track to express his opposition to the vaccine. In NHL, two assistant coaches lost their jobs for not getting the shot.

“It’s not my role”

While vaccination campaigns often run up against ceilings, epidemiologists, like the French government’s “Monsieur vaccine”, Alain Fisher, recommend the use of celebrities to promote vaccination. A slippery ground on which athletes often refuse to enter.

“For me, the vaccine is a personal decision”, explained Rudy Gobert, the basketball player on franceinfo. “There are people who are qualified to say things and it’s not my role to tell people to get vaccinated or not. Everyone has the resources to educate themselves and do what they think is right for them. ”

While the health situation in the West Indies is worrying, the multiple Olympic medalist and living legend of judo Teddy Riner has also firmly rejected the idea of ​​being the spokesperson for vaccination to accelerate the vaccination campaign in his region of origin. : “I got vaccinated as soon as I could”, explained Teddy Riner to the Parisian. “Because I wanted to protect myself, because I wanted to protect my loved ones and the most vulnerable, because I wanted to prepare for the Tokyo Games calmly. Because, personally, I think that’s the solution to fixing the problem. I was not forced and I am not ashamed to say that I am vaccinated. But it’s not my role to tell people ‘Get vaccinated!’ ”

For Patrick Mignon, these refusals are not linked to covido-skepticism, but more to a refusal to be instrumentalized in the service of a cause: “I think that we are more in a debate: ‘The athlete must- he be engaged? ‘ Here, these athletes make their gesture of citizenship, but refuse to become spokespersons. They refuse to enter into what they consider to be a political gesture, ”explains the former researcher. “There is nothing to gain for an athlete to get involved. He fears excessive media coverage when he prefers to see himself as one individual among others. ”

Athletes also probably fear a conspiratorial backlash against them. Thus, while Kylian Mbappé had proudly announced his vaccination on social networks, at the end of May, part of the complosphere had tried to link its underperformance to the Euro to the vaccine. Others have tried to do the same about Christian Eriksen’s heart failure in the middle of a game … before his club revealed that he had not yet received a dose.