England manager Gareth Southgate believes football could “take the weight” off the NHS by buying Covid vaccines and administering them to professional players.
With the mass vaccinations rolled out across the country expected to slow next month due to supply issues, the Government insists everyone over the age of 50 or with an underlying health problem will be offered the jab before the end of April.
Footballers do not fall into the categories to have been vaccinated but have been travelling across Europe for club and international football since the sport resumed last year.
Southgate feels a strain could be taken off the NHS if football were able to step in and begin their own vaccination programme.
“I was thinking ahead of the last few days and our vaccination programme has been incredible as 25million people have had one and I think nearly all the vulnerable people have had the first vaccine,” he said.
“My view would have been we were close to getting to the point where it would have been acceptable for professional sportsmen to be on that list. We are asking them to keep playing.
“They are having to quarantine when they get back from certain situations. They are having to take some risk going back to families and a lot of them have caught the virus because they have been working.
“I was not in any way suggesting they should have been ahead of key workers and teachers who should be ahead but we are getting close to the points where it could be acceptable and actually, football could afford to save the NHS money by buying the vaccines and administering them.”
Southgate also feels it would allow football to save money by being able to reduce the additional measures put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“They could take the weight off the NHS and it would stop a lot of the restrictions and money we are wasting – not wasting because we are spending it for the right reasons – but we are spending a lot of money on testing and extra coaches for travel and all those sorts of things,” he added.
“That might be thrown up in the air by this bump that we’ve hit on supply so that view has got to be measured in terms of being responsible as to the bigger picture.
“But we are moving to the stage where we are asking athletes to put themselves in situations where they are more likely to catch the virus than others and I think we have a bit of a responsibility to them as well.”
Vaccinating across the sport could ease quarantine issues and allow elite athletes to travel – something which looks like impeding on Jude Bellingham’s call-up to Southgate’s latest squad.
Bellingham has been included for England’s World Cup qualifiers but Southgate expects the Borussia Dortmund teenager to be ruled out due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
Having shone for hometown club Birmingham, the 17-year-old midfielder made a high-profile switch to the Bundesliga club last summer and has made an impressive start to life at Dortmund.
But regional Covid-19 regulations in Germany look set to prevent him joining up with the Three Lions, despite being named in the squad for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.
Asked if he knew what part Bellingham could play this month, Southgate said: “We don’t know. We’ve left him in the squad. At this moment in time it looks as though we won’t be able to take him.
“The quarantine rules in Germany looked like they’ll rule him out.
“But, as we’re seeing, those rules can change so quickly and while we’re still investigating what’s possible we wanted to name him in the squad.
“We’ve got a really good relationship with Dortmund so no issues between us and the club.
“I’ve explained to Jude, that we’re leaving him there but we know it’s looking doubtful at this moment in time unfortunately for him that he’ll be able to join up.”