FOR all the disruption caused by the pandemic over the past eight months, elite sport has, in many ways, escaped relatively lightly.

Yes, grassroots sport has taken a severe beating, and it may take years before it recovers, if it does at all.

But for many elite sports, and particularly those with significant financial muscle, things have managed to continue maybe not quite as normal, but pretty satisfactorily considering the circumstances.

Tennis is one of those sports which saw its top players return to competition in double-quick time, with the end of the year, particularly on the men’s side, resembling something like a normal season.

However, with the pandemic still in full swing, discussions abound about how to move forward with elite sport, with many mindful that without competitive action for a sustained period, interest and money will wane severely.

This then, is surely what prompted Andy Murray to suggest a COVID vaccination should be compulsory for tennis players if and when one becomes available.

“I think that probably should be the case [that there should be a compulsory vaccination programme],” he said. “I would hope that all the players would be willing to do that for the good of the sport – providing everything has proved to be safe, clinical trials and everything have been done and there are not any significant side effects.”

It is a statement that world No.1 Novak Djokovic strongly disagrees with, the Serb saying  this year: “Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel.”

Djokovic softened his stance a few months later, claiming he was not against vaccinations, he was only opposed to the idea of being forced to take one.

Certainly, in the general population, the idea of compulsory vaccinations is widely considered less than ideal.

But within elite sport, which has enjoyed countless privileges that “normal people” have not throughout this year,  it is not unreasonable to expect certain demands to be placed upon the athletes.

Tennis has a distinct advantage over many of the more traditional Olympic sports in that the top tier of the sport is awash with money. This was proven in the staging of both the US Open and French Open, as well as the ATP Finals, all of which were staged at a considerable cost despite there being no, or a very limited numbers of, spectators. 

Murray is always worth listening to and he rarely gives an opinion without thinking before he opens his mouth. 

Forcing any athlete to be vaccinated against anything is, of course, not a perfect solution. But athletes are almost certainly going to have to make some concessions if they are to help their sport make it through these most tumultuous of times. 

Of course, tennis players would have the option to refuse a vaccine. But the consequences would be that they disqualified themselves from being part of the tour while the pandemic continues to rage.

Most likely, a compulsory vaccination programme will be avoided at all costs. But if I were an athlete being given the opportunity to help save my sport, I would jump at it.


AS the days and weeks of the medical tribunal of former British Cycling and Team Sky doctor, Richard Freeman continue to pass, the story gets messier and messier.

Last week, the tribunal heard the accusation that Team Sky’s former head coach Shane Sutton, who also worked for British Cycling, was telling lies about his knowledge, or lack thereof, of doping in the sport.

Czech rider Kvetoslav Palov claimed when he was on the same team as Sutton in 1987, Sutton had been given £10,000-worth of performance-enhancing drugs which had helped him keep going in the Tour de France.

This follows Sutton’s previous claims to parliament that he had “no knowledge” of doping in the sport.

This hearing may have Freeman at the centre of it, but there is plenty of muck being raked up elsewhere in the process.

Prior to the accusations against Sutton, Tony Cooke, the father of former British Olympic champion Nicole, said he had provided UK Anti-Doping with evidence that Sutton had used drugs.

He then claimed UKAD had failed to sufficiently act on this information.

This tribunal will end with a verdict on Freeman but the damage done to a number of other parties, particularly British Cycling, Team Sky and UKAD, is significant. 

It is impossible to know the true story here – there are far too many pieces to slot together to ensure there are not at least small gaps. But whatever the final outcome, no one is being left in any doubt that there are murky waters within British sport. 

It is easy for us in Britain to pass judgment on other countries who have poor records when it comes to clean sport – and there are many – but this hearing proves we perhaps shouldn’t be too judgmental about other nations before knowing the full story about what goes on at home first.