Despite the competition’s lack of an official vaccination policy, NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo doesn’t believe their policies are “soft” and claimed more than 95 per cent of players are vaccinated.
The NRL announced the 2022 draw earlier on Tuesday, with plenty of mouth-watering clashes to look forward to.
There had been questions regarding the state of play for unvaccinated players and whether they would be permitted to play.
The AFL took a hard-line stance on the matter in their official vaccination policy, with every player needing to be vaccinated against Covid by February 18 or risk being prevented from playing or training with their club.
However, the NRL is yet to announce a league-wide vaccination policy.
When pressed on the matter, Abdo maintained it was all about “giving people freedom of choice” but emphasised the hard work the NRL had done on educating players on the importance of getting vaccinated.
“I think to think that just by making something mandatory people will blindly follow is not the only form of leadership,” Abdo said.
“Just because we haven’t made it mandatory does not mean we’re not strongly supportive of vaccination.
“In fact, we’ve run a marketing campaign that the players have been front and centre of.
Camera IconAndrew Abdo doesn’t believe making Covid vaccinations mandatory is the way forward for the NRL. NCA NewsWire/Gaye Gerard Credit: News Corp Australia
“We’ve provided access to healthcare experts. We’ve worked individually with all clubs, both the NRLW teams and NRL teams. We’ve really facilitated and led and over-indexed on education.
“As a result, we’ve seen a strong response from the players.
“I don’t think there’s anything soft about our policy. I think what we are doing is giving people freedom of choice, no different to many global sports around the world.
“We’re allowing people the freedom of choice, which I think is important, but we’re putting health at the forefront of our policy.
“We believe in vaccination, and we want everyone to get vaccinated accordingly.”
Despite Abdo’s insistence of giving players freedom of choice, an announcement from the Queensland government puts that policy in jeopardy.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed only fully vaccinated people would be permitted entry into government stadiums across the state.
It could leave unvaccinated players unable to play games in the Sunshine State.
However, Abdo insisted the NRL was prepared for such an announcement and noted the Queensland government’s decision took precedence.
“It’s something (Queensland’s announcement) that we were anticipating,” Abdo said. “The good news is the clubs have done a terrific job.
“We’re at well over 95 per cent vaccination rate across the playing group, which is terrific. Some clubs are at 100 per cent.
“While we haven’t mandated vaccinations, we have been incredibly strong in educating and facilitating as many players as possible getting vaccinated. The players and clubs have responded.
“We have always said we’d adhere to public health orders. We will adapt and adhere to the public health orders.
“That will mean that the very small group of players who choose not to be vaccinated will have to adhere to those public health orders.”
One NRL player who has been notably outspoken on vaccination is Melbourne Storm star Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
While the Storm had been hopeful the Kiwi prop would reconsider his vaccination stance, the 25-year-old made a social media post last Thursday that suggested his mind was made up.
“Front line nurses speaking out. Ask the question, why are they willing to lose their job to not get the juice? What are they seeing that we don’t see,” Asofa-Solomona posted on his Instagram story.
His post was accompanied by a link to a video of South Australian healthcare workers protesting SA Heath’s decision to make unvaccinated healthcare workers take leave.
– With Jasper Bruce, NCA NewsWireInternet Explorer Channel Network