Gareth Southgate says that the age and social media use of footballers can make them “more open to some of these conspiracy theories” surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine, as he defended an apparent reluctance of players to speak out about the necessity of getting jabbed.
The England manager reasserted his own support for the vaccination programme, and earlier insisted that the take-up within his squad has been higher than perceived, but effectively admitted there had been a greater reticence discussed within the dressing room.
“Most of the players 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,” Southgate said.
“At their age they are more open to some of these conspiracy theories. Because they are reading social media more, they are perhaps vulnerable to those sorts 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.”
It was put to Southgate that it is all the more surprising from his players given they have so willingly campaigned on other social issues. The manager argued this was different.
“In other topics we’ve discussed as a group publicly we’ve been very clear,” he said. “There is no place for racism whatsoever. If there was abuse for your view that we felt strongly enough about it that we are going to stand the line.
“With the vaccination there are individuals feeling differently. Whatever side you’re on, or whatever side you speak publicly about, you get nailed. I think there might be some anxiety for speaking up from some of the players, even if they feel they are on the right side of the argument.
“We’ve seen high-profile people with people outside their house. They are less sure, perhaps, of their view even if they have been vaccinated. They are less sure they should be speaking publicly about that because if something did go wrong, God forbid, further down the line, fingers are pointing back at them.”
Southgate also reflected on abuse he had received on calling for vaccinations, as he attempted to put himself in the mindset of some of his players.
“But look, who knows, 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 per cent 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.
“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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