• Alejandro Echeverria

The vaccine dilemma in sport: Timeline

By Alejandro Echeverria

Jan. 28, 2022


It’s been a while since our last issue, so by correlation, it’s been a while since we’ve discussed the vaccine/Covid dilemma in sports. Since that time, a lot has happened in the sports business landscape. For that reason, we will look over many instances in which the dilemma has affected the sport business world, focusing and expanding upon the biggest hitters: events that have caused the biggest changes in rules, payments, and scheduling.


What’s going on with Kyrie nowadays?

The first instance which stands out from the timeline is Kyrie Irving’s playing situation. As covered previously, Irving is not vaccinated, and at the time, was unable to play any games as per the Nets’ rules. However, on Dec. 17, the Nets activated Irving as a part-time player for games outside of New York due to the struggles the team faced in fielding players because of Covid.


On Jan. 5, Irving played in his first game of the season, a win against the Pacers. This has allowed Irving to receive pay for all away games, although he is still losing money for not playing home games (local laws don’t allow him to play as he isn’t vaccinated). More recently though, on Jan. 12, it was reported that the Nets could play Irving in home games if they are willing to pay a small fine. Whether or not this is done is dependent on various factors, but it is definitely worth it to keep an eye out for what happens next.


English Premier League Vaccine Concerns

Another important event that occurred recently involves the effects of Covid in the English Premier League. With only 68 percent of players being vaccinated as of Dec. 18, the Premier League has the lowest percentage of vaccinations out of the “Big 4” soccer leagues. This is a drastically lower number than the other leagues, with Ligue 1 having about 98%, the Bundesliga having about 94%, and La Liga having about 90% of players double vaccinated. Consequently, it was the only league out of the four to have league fixtures cancelled, hurting the league’s bottom line.


As a response to this, on Dec. 19, Liverpool F.C. manager Jurgen Klopp delivered a statement to the press explaining that vaccination status would be a factor they would look at when signing new players. As other clubs look to follow his lead, vaccination status has become an extra variable for players to deal with when trying to sign for big clubs.


Liverpool not only made the news for this story, but also got attention for receiving a threat of investigation for the postponement of its game against Arsenal F.C. After many games had been cancelled or postponed throughout the recent weeks, Liverpool vs. Arsenal was the latest, although it was later found that there was only one Covid case amidst the Liverpool camp. This has since led to controversy, as fans and other clubs have complained about the possibility of teams misleading the league in order to cancel/postpone games to their benefit.


New NBA and NFL Covid guidelines

Another significant change came from the NBA and NFL, where both leagues changed their Covid rules and guidelines. On Dec. 20, the NBA released replacement player rules which required a team to sign a replacement player after two positive Covid tests. These players would be signed on 10-day ‘hardship deals.’ As a result, we saw a record number of players in the NBA this season, with Greg Monroe being the 541st player to suit up. Additionally, on

Jan. 1, the NBA announced that they would be reducing the isolation period for players from 10 to five days depending on test results. The NFL had instituted this same policy on Dec. 28. This was in response to a report from Dec. 25, when the NFL chief medical officer said data showed asymptomatic individuals are not spreading Covid.


You’re Djokovic-ing me

In tennis, there was plenty of controversy regarding all-time great Novak Djokovic and his vaccination status. Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, was set to play in the Australian Open, a tournament he has won nine times already. Djokovic had reportedly gotten Covid a few months before the tournament, but was reassured he’d be able to play after reading a letter sent from Tennis Australia, which stated that a Covid infection in the past six months, with a letter from a doctor, would qualify as a valid medical exemption. Consequently, he received this exemption with no quarantine required, and landed in Australia soon after.


In the ensuing days, Djokovic’s visa was canceled by the Australian government and he was taken to a temporary detention facility. Here, he received notice that his visa was being cancelled, which he attempted to appeal. Unfortunately for him, this appeal was unsuccessful and he was eventually deported out of the country after a letter sent out by Health Minister Hunt to Tennis Australia stated that a Covid infection in the past six months does not meet the requirements for quarantine-free entry. Losing the world’s current number one player is never good for a tournament in terms of potential revenue, as demand for the event could drop. We will soon see how Djokovic’s absence affects the tournament overall.


Other Covid bouts

As for hockey, all operations were suspended by the NHL from Dec. 22-25 after a series of outbreaks among multiple clubs. And in boxing, Callum Johnson was forced to pull out of his fight vs. Joe Smith Jr. on Jan. 15 after testing positive for Covid.


Bottom line

As you now can understand, there have been multiple implications in the sport business landscape due to the effects of Covid-19, and whether or not players and staff are vaccinated. With new rules and regulations, fines and punishment procedures, and the rescheduling of events, the sports business landscape has been shaken up by Covid. Perhaps, though, this has taught leagues, teams, and players many lessons for dealing with business crises in the future.