Shots fired at Australian Open as unvaccinated players barred from finals

Victoria’s state government has vowed to forbid unvaccinated players from competing in the next Australian Open after a basketball player withdrew from two events over a compulsory vaccine policy.

The basketballer, Jared Bolden, had been set to play at tournaments in Bendigo and Townsville, and his trainer said Bolden was due to test negative for the meningococcal B strain in coming days, prompting him to withdraw.

Vaccinations have become an increasingly contentious issue across sport in recent years amid fears that vaccinations were linked to the spread of asthma, an effective cancer vaccine and anaemia. But the joint chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union, Bill Pulver, said just because Bolden wouldn’t have been protected against the strain by a previously available vaccine, doesn’t mean rugby’s national championships are an open playing field.

Australian amateur: Jared Bolden says unvaccinated players should not be allowed at championships Read more

“Unfortunately these systems that we have in place for our tournaments have been altered by Jared’s injury,” Pulver told News Corp. “This obviously is the most recent of these changes and we have to see this through.”

Pulver said young players who had contracted meningococcal B had been immunised last year, and said he personally supported the policy, and those who did not were “going to have to look at a different aspect” of their life.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said Bolden’s withdrawal would not take place without the state government.

“As long as we have an anti-vaccination movement in Australia we’re going to be going further and further down this path,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne. “As a result of a state government decision we will prevent anyone who does not follow this law from entering the state of Victoria.”

Victoria, which currently has the highest rate of immunisation in Australia, requires a parent or guardian to sign permission forms and have the vaccine prescription to enter a public sporting event.

However, critics say the provision gives parents a false sense of security.

The requirements mean parents of students at Victorian private schools are allowed to opt out of the vaccination requirement. But those schools are not required to impose an exemption.

The Australian Schools Sports Association introduced restrictions against missing school games for students who were not required to be vaccinated against meningococcal B for other reasons, and later found some students weren’t vaccinated because their parents had not requested it.

This prompted the federal government to introduce legislation last year to make schools publicly available the vaccination list for their pupils, following further pressure from organisations including the Royal Children’s Hospital.

The Australian captain Genia, 32, claimed he would not play against any team without the mandatory vaccine, which was due to be finished this week.

Jared Bolden backtracks on claiming he would be unvaccinated in future Read more

He had cited his time on the All Whites’ World Cup qualifier in England last September, where they played in a hostile atmosphere, the uncertainty of travelling to places like London and only having a day’s preparation before kickoff and a change of vaccinations for 11 players that he said was a “lifestyle issue”.

“Those days, they happened and I can’t change it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I’m not going to play my heart out and go all out for that jersey no matter what it takes.”

Bolden changed his mind after his death became an issue on social media. “I want to publicly apologise to anyone who may have offended as my thoughts and feelings have changed over the past few days in light of the ongoing debate about vaccinations in Australia,” he said in a statement released on his behalf by his public relations agency.

“I am currently not permitted to play, train or travel for several weeks and I apologize for any pain I may have caused from my unfortunate comments. I am back at home in Brisbane having worked closely with my family and will work closely with my physiotherapist throughout this period.

“I am determined to play again this season, most likely with a different team, but no doubt fully raring to go when I get back to playing my best game of basketball, which is my passion.”

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