While eyes were on the case of the world’s number one tennis player Novak Djokovic and the vaccination policy to enter Australia, Thiago Monteiro simply continued his training for the Open in that country.
The Brazilian, who ranks 89th in the raking, he really couldn’t risk being denied a place in the tournament, mainly because of the money he will earn just for showing up to his first round match.
But it wasn’t the strict vaccination policy that led Monteiro to get vaccinated before the competition.
“My decision to get vaccinated had nothing to do with the Australian Open. It was a matter of protect myself and others“Monteiro tells the BBC.
Upon arrival in Australia, Djokovic’s visa was revoked and he was ordered to stay in a migrant center for allegedly failing to comply with the entry regulations established due to the coronavirus pandemic and which are related to vaccination.
However, this Monday a judge ruled in his favor and the Serbian is already training on the Australian courts.
Like Monteiro, more than 95% of the top 100 male tennis players and 80% of male players overall have received double vaccinations, according to the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).
But this has been the case since the Australian Open announced its mandatory vaccination policy in October 2021. Before that announcement, the proportion of vaccinated male players was much lower, 65%.
The most recent figures issued by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) reveal that more than 80% of the players have been vaccinated twice. By January 6, 2022, 85% of the 100 best tennis players were.
Cases similar to Djokovic’s have been seen in other sports, such as basketball, golf, and soccer.
But why are some elite athletes, some of the most health-conscious people in the world, so reluctant to get the injection?
It is a question that Monteiro himself struggles to answer.
While he refuses to name the colleagues who were dragging him out, he admits that it is quite disconcerting to hear professional athletes question scientific advice.
“I really don’t know why it happens, but I suspect it is a consequence of all the misinformation that circulates“, he reflects.
Dr Darren Briton, a sports psychologist at Solent University in the UK, says the first step in understanding this hesitancy is realizing that athletes tend to be far more concerned with their bodies than most of us.
“For athletes, their bodies are their most precious asset“, explica Britton.
“Some of them are likely to hesitate to get a vaccine if they have not been given enough information or if they have been misinformed.”
“There were initial concerns, for example, about whether the vaccine could affect its performance or even show up in anti-doping tests,” he adds.
Last year, Djokovic said he was “against vaccination.”
Experts like Britton believe the situation is amplified if a high-profile name like Djokovic publicly questions the vaccine.
A similar situation arose in the National Football League (NFL) in the United States.
The NFL said that more than 90% of its players are twice vaccinated, but one of its stars, Aaron Rodgers, controversially endorsed homeopathy as an alternative form of immunization against COVID-19.
He was also accused of misleading the public about vaccination.
And there appear to be doubts about vaccinations in English football, with multiple games postponed due to the covid-19 outbreaks.
In the UK, a survey by the England Football League, the governing body for the lower divisions, revealed at the end of December that a quarter of the players on its 72 professional teams “have no intention of getting vaccinated“.
In the Premier League, the most important division in the country, 23% of the players have not received the second dose or even the first.
Athletes are also susceptible to conspiracy theories
“We tend to think of athletes as superhumans, but they are as susceptible to misinformation or conspiracy theories as any of us,” explains Gavin Weedon, Senior Lecturer in Sport, Health and the Body at Nottingham Trent University.
Weedon, who is coordinating a new curriculum that will specifically focus on vaccinations among athletes about vaccines, cautions that athletes should not be singled out in the immunization debate.
“We would still have widespread doubts about vaccines in the world even if Novak Djokovic had not said anything about it,” he says.
But the expert agrees that high-profile dissent against vaccines is not helpful to authorities’ efforts to increase immunization rates.
“Whether intentionally or not, Djokovic became an example of vaccine skepticism because of his status and possibly his expressions and views.”
With some authorities making vaccination mandatory and sports bodies and even teams helping to drive acceptance of immunization among athletes, Darren Britton cautions that it is a solution that can also hamper efforts to have athletes as “vaccination ambassadors.” .
“The more you try to make something mandatory, more people will resist thereto“, dice Britton.
“If you want athletes to lead by example, you really need to try to educate them“.
Not getting vaccinated was never an option for Thiago Monteiro.
In addition to having a mother in poor health, she was surprised by the large number of COVID-related deaths in her native Brazil (more than 600,000).
But without specifically naming Djokovic, the Brazilian number one says players should reflect on the impact of their actions.
“People can have a say about the vaccine, even though it is more than proven to save lives.”
“But I know that a lot of people around the world are watching us. If we really have the power to influence them, let’s make sure we make it in a good way“.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.