FEW would seriously dispute the claim that professional athletes are amongst the healthiest individuals in society.
Quite literally, their bodily health is their wealth. Physical performance at the very least depends on having a high level of fitness, which is why athletes are typically so devoted to it.
Given this fact, and that the scientific data has clearly shown the young, healthy and fit are at a very low risk of serious illness and death from Covid-19, it is very hard to understand any justification for forced vaccinations in this group.
I know from my work as a sport psychology consultant that many in sport are very reluctant to be jabbed, and in some cases, are prepared to reject this intervention outright.
I have heard talk about worries around possible side-effects, whilst others can’t see how these injections are necessary given their excellent health status, and that many have already had the virus with no ill-effects.
Others object based on principle. This ranges from those who believe that informed consent should mean that they have a choice about whether to take the vaccine, to those who are very disturbed by the coercion and bullying that has come from government, guided by the scientific advisory body SAGE, the department for health security, and others.
Public perceptions about the lives of professional sportsmen and women are often shaped by the media. What we hear frequently is about great wealth, cosseted lives and celebrity status. And it is true, that for a small group, their lives do match up to these descriptions, at least on one level.
What tends to be overlooked though, is that the vast majority of professional athletes exist in very precarious circumstances. Most players in team sports such as cricket, football and rugby do not receive large salaries, and each season, and even every week in truth, they must produce performances and results to keep their jobs.
Few of us have this level of intense results-based scrutiny to deal with week in and week out in our occupations, and those that do are often very highly rewarded and not uncommonly have job security and professional status.
Professional sport is highly competitive, brutal and volatile. People enter this world because of their pure love of the sport and the fact that it is wonderful to do something in which you excel.
But this should not blind us from the reality that for many, professional sport can be a very intense, psychologically difficult and extreme environment.
Most of the thousands of athletes I have worked with over 35 years of practice are happy to accept these challenges since they are freely doing something they care about passionately.
With this reality in mind, are we really sure that threatening athletes’ livelihoods, and depriving them of their vocations, is fair, just and morally acceptable? It seems to me that vaccine mandates in professional sport are also likely to make some people even more suspicious about the purpose behind the way the whole pandemic has been handled.
It could very easily lead to less, not more, confidence, and a breakdown in trust about the intentions of government, medical authorities and the Establishment.
In such a febrile atmosphere, is it any wonder that conspiracy theories of varying sorts are finding fertile ground? When decisions do not appear to be rational, some may be tempted to consider more irrational explanations.
The growth of interest that modern professional athletes have in diet, nutrition and psychology has benefited my own professional journey. Compared to when I started in the late 1980s, the knowledge athletes have developed about these topics has grown exponentially.
As a psychologist, I have noticed that athletes are now more interested in questioning received wisdom, and want to understand more fully the science behind the interventions and programmes they take part in.
This has been a good thing, not least because it is well known that the best performers are usually those who take responsibility for their own growth, knowledge and decisions.
This welcome increase in individual autonomy means that a sizeable group are quite happy to ask questions from all manner of experts, including those who hold medical and scientific positions or work for the pharmaceutical industry.
The way Novak Djokovic has been treated, with his views dismissed and his intentions questioned, has in my experience built up even more resistance to vaccines and the Covid restrictions in some quarters in professional sport.
If one of the greatest tennis players in history can be treated in such a way, then what does this say about how lower-level or less influential athletes will be viewed?
Professional athletes are usually very grounded and matter of fact, and in my experience they are often very close in terms of mental strength to the former military personnel I have also worked with. That some of these dedicated and psychologically robust individuals are so concerned should worry us all.
It also raises the broader question of what the attitude will be to the rest of us not at these levels of physical perfection. Informed consent and access to rigorous scientific debate about the efficacy and safety of future medicines may become a thing of the past.
The views of non-experts, and those lacking qualifications in the specific area of concern will be ignored, dismissed or derided as misinformation. Some of us feel we may be at this very gate right now.