Victoria’s sporting vaccination mandate, and the Australia Football League’s strong endorsement, could force the hand of administrators across Australia.
By mid-February, 2022, all AFL and AFLW players will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk being barred from playing and training, the league announced on Thursday.
The AFL’s vaccination schedule will be rolled out across three stages, but all players will be required to be vaccinated if they want to continue their playing careers.
All players and football staff will need to be vaccinated under the AFL's new COVID-19 vaccination policy.
— AFL (@AFL) October 21, 2021
National Rugby League boss Andrew Abdo, meanwhile, said NRL players will not be mandated to have a COVID-19 vaccine, but warned unvaccinated players would be subject to more stringent protocols.
The conflicting decisions come after Victoria last week announced that all professional athletes must be fully vaccinated to continue playing in the state.
As well as visiting international sportspeople, the Victorian decision would affect NRL club Melbourne Storm and any teams it hosts.
The AFL’s announcement on Thursday forces players in other states to be vaccinated.
Sydney Swans and Greater Western Sydney players will need to be fully vaccinated by December 17, while clubs in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia will need to have both doses by February 18.
NRL CEO Abdo admitted on Thursday night that Victoria’s stance also means NRL clubs may have no choice to impose their own vaccination mandate.
“Clearly we need to make sure we have continuity to the competition and we are creating a safe working environment,” he told Channel 7.
“We are busy working on the protocols for the players who are vaccinated and the players that are not vaccinated,” Abdo said.
“Hopefully, we are talking about a very small group of players (not vaccinated).”
AFL football general manager Andrew Dillon said the uptake of people within the AFL had so far been “extremely encouraging”.
“We are very pleased the overwhelming majority of our players, coaches, staff members across the AFL and the 18 clubs have at the very least received their first vaccination shot,” Dillon said
“Our policy delivers on our commitment to best protect our players, staff and the wider community, so we can once again unite as families, as friends, as work colleagues, as teammates, as supporters, as communities, as one.”
Adelaide’s Deni Varnhagen this week became the first known AFL or AFLW player to refuse the COVID-19 vaccination.
A registered nurse, who has worked in intensive care units, Varnhagen informed the Crows she is not yet willing to receive the jab.
Varnhagen, who played in the Crows’ 2017 and 2019 premierships, posted a video on social media on Saturday showing people marching in Adelaide for “freedom of choice”.
AFL Players Association boss Paul Marsh said it became clear unvaccinated players would be unable to be part of the competition.
“In our conversations with players about COVID-19 vaccinations over recent months, we have made it clear that the AFLPA believes in the importance of vaccinations,” Marsh said.
“In saying this, our view is that vaccinations are an individual decision.
“It has, however, became apparent in recent weeks that unvaccinated players will not be able to fulfil their contractual obligations due to various state border restrictions.”