Unvaccinated NRL players could be sacked with eight weeks notice if they refuse to be vaccinated for COVID-19 under a proposal drafted by the Rugby League Players’ Association in consultation with a select group of NRL club bosses.
The revised pitch was fired off via email to all the clubs on Tuesday afternoon after NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo rejected claims the governing body’s vaccination policy was “soft” by not making the COVID vaccination mandatory for all players and staff.
Abdo announced the 2022 season draw just hours after it emerged unvaccinated players may not be able to play in Queensland next year, following an announcement from Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk that only vaccinated people would be allowed to enter government-owned stadiums – a list which includes Suncorp Stadium, Cbus Stadium on the Gold Coast and Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville.
The public health order may be reviewed by next March but should it remain in place, players refusing to be vaccinated will be forced to sit out games.
The RLPA and club bosses came up with a discussion paper outlining their views on consequences for players who fail to comply and can’t train or play.
The discussion paper suggests docking players “1/52nd of their pay for every week where a player is unable to train in any capacity whatsoever”, and “1/30th for every week in-season where the player is unavailable for that week’s NRL match due to his unvaccinated status”.
Andrew Abdo said mandating vaccinations was “not the silver bullet”.Credit:NRL Photos
Keen for sacking to be a last resort, the RLPA document proposes “unilateral termination is not available until a minimum of eight (8) weeks after a player has been formally provided with the vaccination club direction”.
The RLPA say player loans should be an option “where the health orders in one government jurisdiction may be more suitable for the continued involvement of an unvaccinated player than the jurisdictions in place at the player’s current club”.
Abdo has refused to follow the AFL’s lead and mandate vaccines, and was not budging in light of Palaszczuk’s latest move.
The NRL boss added there were only “20 to 24 players” yet to receive the jab, and the vaccination rate was “over 95 per cent” among the playing group.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona has made his feelings clear about not being vaccinated.Credit:SMH
South Sydney and St George Illawarra both travel to Queensland in round one, but will have all their players vaccinated, while the Bulldogs head to Townsville and are hopeful Luke Thompson will receive the jab. It remains to be seen if new recruit John Asiata will be vaccinated.
“Whilst we haven’t mandated vaccinations, we have been incredibly strong in educating and facilitating as many players as possible getting vaccinated, and the players and clubs have responded,” Abdo said.
“We have always said we’ll adhere to public health orders. That will mean the very, very small group of players who choose not to be vaccinated will have to adhere to those public health orders.
“If the public health order is you can’t enter the stadium unless you’re vaccinated, those players won’t be able to train or play.
“It’s important we adhere to the principle that clubs are autonomous and they run a business, and they have a board and they need to think about what their policy is based on where they are based and jurisdictions … as long as they’re adhering to our rules and the salary cap rules and adhering to applicable public health order codes, they’re able to make those decisions [to sack players].
“We don’t want to see players sacked, we want to see everyone vaccinated … we want to see a way to get them playing safely, but they are decisions for the employers to make.”
When it was suggested the NRL was happy to leave it to the clubs to pull the trigger on players refusing to be vaccinated, Abdo took objection and said: “To think just making something mandatory and people will blindly follow is not the only form of leadership. Just because we haven’t made it mandatory doesn’t mean we are not strongly supportive of vaccination.
“In fact, we have run a marketing campaign the players have been front and centre of.
“There’s nothing soft about our policy.
“What we are doing is giving people freedom of choice, no different to many global sports around the world, no different to any federal or state government in Australia, no different to many employers.
“We’re allowing people the freedom of choice, which I think is important. But we’re putting health at the forefront of our policy.
“I don’t think our policy is soft. We’re carefully considering what is happening around us and the environment.
“We believe in freedom of choice, and that making something mandatory isn’t the silver bullet to things.”
On Tuesday, Storm chief executive Justin Rodski spoke about the complexities of Nelson Asofa-Solomona refusing to be jabbed and said the issue would have been made “certainly” easier if the jab was mandated by the NRL.
“From a code perspective, if the NRL had mandated vaccination clearly the pathway through this would have been much clearer,” he said.
“Each individual club is required to work through their own individual circumstances. We have a duty of care within our organisations, so there is a lot of consideration that needs to go into this. It’s very complex.”
Canberra CEO Don Furner announced the club they would be “standing by” those who do not wish to get vaccinated and would not be terminating their contracts.
“It’s easier for them if they get vaccinated. They can travel into Queensland and play games, they can travel into Victoria and play, they can have a lot freer airline travel,” he said.
“It’s a lot more difficult for anybody who isn’t going to be vaxxed, so we’ll sit down and explain that to them, and leave the decision with them.“
with Sarah Keoghan
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