Saturday, May 21, 2022
HomeCOVID-19Time for rugby to tackle this vaccine apartheid

Time for rugby to tackle this vaccine apartheid

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FEBRUARY is a special time of year for Rugby Union fans with the historic Six Nations tournament and the attendant revelry – pre-match friendly games and drinking with old friends and foes, blowing away our post-Christmas blues.

For unvaccinated fans like me in France, however, the 2022 tournament will be yet another humiliating reminder of their new status as second-class citizens. They won’t be able to travel on the train to Paris to watch the game or, if they drive there, to play in a friendly game beforehand or watch the main event at the Stade de France. Most ironically perhaps, given that Guinness is the tournament’s principal sponsor, they can’t join their mates for an extortionately over-priced post-game pint in a Pigalle bar.

It’s not all doom and gloom: they can still access emergency healthcare should they have an accident whilst driving home on the notorious Parisian Périphérique. Their unvaccinated family members won’t be able to visit them in hospital though.

Rugby didn’t previously tolerate such state-sponsored discrimination, or apartheid as it’s better known.

May 1984 saw the England Rugby Union team set off on the last major sports tour of the apartheid (racial) state, the Republic of South Africa. They wouldn’t return to SA until 1994 when apartheid’s system of institutionalised segregation and racial ‘separateness’ had ended. It’s widely recognised that the boycott of South African sports and businesses by the ‘civilised’ world played a key role in ending this moral horror, and it is something we’re justifiably proud of in the UK.

Nearly 40 years later, the England team, and thousands of fans, will make the much shorter journey to the apartheid (medical) state of France for the final game on the 2022 tournament’s ‘Super Saturday’ on March 19.

‘Don’t talk rubbish,’ I can imagine my rugby mates retorting. ‘You can’t compare what happened in South Africa to what’s happening in France.’

Rubbish? Let’s look at the facts. As of January 24, and in addition to the restrictions listed previously, the introduction of the ‘Pass Vaccinal’ means that the unvaccinated cannot take their children to the library or swimming pool and are forbidden from popping into a café on their way back from work.

Reread that last paragraph and replace ‘unvaccinated’ with ‘black’. If you can do so without wincing, then we’re not on the same moral plane.

This isn’t a piece about the medical efficacy – already debunked on numerous occasions of such a measure – but about its morality.

If segregating people and restricting their access to public services and places was morally wrong in 1980s Africa, then it’s morally wrong today in Europe. Particularly so in the country holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) and ostensibly representing the EU’s founding values of ‘human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights’.

France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, in language more befitting a rugby changing room than a Presidential palace, spoke recently about his desire to ‘f*ck over’ (envie d’emmerder) the unvaccinated.

Once again, reread that sentence and replace ‘unvaccinated’ with ‘black’ to understand the hateful bigotry underpinning this policy.

As the bookmakers suggest, the Six Nations title is likely to be on the line when England face France in Paris.

England’s rugby players, belatedly, did the right thing back in the 1980s and helped end one of the worst regimes in modern history.

Nearly 40 years later, Rugby Union is a professional sport and often all but unrecognisable as a spectacle compared with the amateur game of 1984.

We hear a lot (too much?) about ‘rugby’s values’ not having changed despite its professionalisation. Well, here’s a chance to show the world that it really is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen who still aren’t afraid to put human rights above sporting glory.

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