NRL backs down on compulsory flu shots before season restart

Canberra Raiders player Joseph Tapine, seen here being tackled as he played for the New Zealand national side, is one of a number of NRL players reportedly refusing to have a flu vaccination

Australia’s National Rugby League backed down Thursday on a demand that players undergo compulsory flu vaccinations before playing in a resumed competition, clearing another hurdle in its bid to restart its virus-interrupted season on May 28.

The jabs had been included in strict health protocols agreed by the league in return for clearance to resume play, but several players had refused the injections.

On Thursday, the NRL announced that players could decline the vaccination for “compelling reasons” such as medical, religious or conscientious grounds if they signed a liability waiver acknowledging their heightened risk of contracting influenza.

“Until an NRL-approved release is acknowledged and signed by players, they will not be permitted to train,” the league said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear if Australian health authorities had approved the exemptions, after both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his powerful home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, insisted on a “no jab, no play” condition for allowing the NRL to resume competition.

The official website had reported that players refusing to get the vaccination included the Gold Coast’s Bryce Cartwright and the Canberra Raiders trio of Sia Soliola, Josh Papalii and Joseph Tapine.

It said 97 percent of the league’s 800 players had already had the vaccination.

The cash-strapped NRL suspended its season on March 24 due to Australia’s coronavirus shutdown and has pushed hard to resume play so it can retain revenue from broadcasting rights.

It plans to stage matches in Sydney, with the New Zealand Warriors based in rural New South Wales and the Melbourne Storm setting up camp on the NSW-Victoria border.

But a string of lockdown breaches by high-profile players has prompted warnings from authorities that the competition will not go ahead if the rules are not obeyed.

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