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Gareth Southgate: some unvaccinated players swayed by ‘conspiracy theories’

The Guardian
The Guardian
 2021-10-08
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Gareth Southgate and goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson watch a training session at the scenic Estadi Nacional.

Gareth Southgate has said some footballers are not vaccinated against Covid-19 because their opinions are influenced by conspiracy theories on social media about the jab.

England’s manager was keen to offer a considered take on the subject before his side’s World Cup qualifier against Andorra, which was given the green light after being thrown into doubt for a couple of hours after a fire at the Estadi Nacional on Friday afternoon.

Southgate defended his players’ reluctance to support jabs publicly, even though they have been vocal on other social issues, and he suggested one problem preventing a larger uptake is some are more susceptible to rumours online.

Vaccination rates vary across the Premier League and Tammy Abraham is the only England player to confirm he has been double-jabbed. The issue remains a sensitive topic around the England camp – Fikayo Tomori and Jesse Lingard argued this week that it was a personal choice – and Southgate, who dismissed reports that most of his players remain unvaccinated, offered a worrying insight into the mindset inside dressing rooms.

“It is easy for me as a 50-year-old – the percentages for me, whatever marginal risks there were for having a vaccine, would be outweighed by the risks of catching the virus,” Southgate said. “Most of the players were back late and had to wait longer, a lot of them already caught the virus and – this is me theorising – maybe they feel they already have antibodies from that.

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“At their age they are more open to some of these conspiracy theories because they are reading social media more, they are perhaps more vulnerable to those sort of views. From what I can see there is a bit of confusion around. And there are several different threads there to why they are choosing to be jabbed or not to speak publicly about it.

“I recognise why there would be criticism for that. As I’ve said all along, I don’t see a better way of getting through the pandemic than a vaccination programme. Nobody has come up with anything. They have come up with reasons not to be jabbed but I’ve not heard them coming up with a better solution otherwise we’d all stay where we’ve been for the last two years. It’s a very complex subject. A very toxic subject and maybe that is why people are a little bit more reluctant to speak up.”

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Declan Rice, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori stretch during an England training session at the Estadi Nacional before the fire broke out. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/The FA/Getty Images

Southgate, who believes that the vaccine is the only route out of the pandemic, was asked why young footballers believe conspiracy theories. “I would sense that younger people are at a different scale in terms of uptake to older people,” he said. “They seem to be more susceptible to social media posts or living their lives on social media, where a lot of those theories maybe abound.

“We might just talk to our GP and do things that way. But look, I could be sitting here in five years’ time and have been wrong. With some of the other issues it’s been very clear what’s right and what’s wrong. I’ve been willing to speak about that, but could I 100% say that the vaccination programme is safe? Well, I couldn’t because I’m not a chemist and I’m not a doctor and I’m not a scientist.

“I would imagine we wouldn’t be in the position we are on the mass vaccination programme without research having happened and without governments and medical people being totally sure, so I am comfortable in taking that risk. But I recognise that others might feel less comfortable and have some anxiety around that. That’s why it’s a bit more complicated and I guess that would be why perhaps they might feel less confident about speaking up.”

Southgate received vile abuse for appearing in a pro-vaccine video for the NHS last summer. “If you’re receiving messages when you support the programme that say ‘You could be up in front of a Nuremberg type trial in 10 years’ and people are quite vicious with comments, it does make you think twice about speaking out.

“Because what if you are on the wrong side? At the moment I couldn’t be sure I am on the right side. I am comfortable that I’ve had the vaccine. I’m comfortable that I think it was the right thing to do a video for the NHS. But I also recognise that others might not be so keen to put themselves in that situation.”

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England, who top Group I, will be captained by Kieran Trippier in Andorra. Preparations for the game were hit by a fire at the 3,300-seat Estadi Nacional. The television gantry at the side of the stadium was engulfed by flames three hours after England had trained there.

Sprinklers were used to try to get the blaze under control before firefighters arrived and put out the flames. Photographs showed black marks left on the artificial pitch and beside the dugouts. “No personal harm has been reported, only material damage,” a spokesperson said. “The match will go ahead as planned.”

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