New Zealand Breakers release star guard Tai Webster due to Covid vaccination stance

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The choice to be vaccinated or not is going to become a game-changing issue not just for the NBL going forward, but athletes and officialdom in all sports.

The NBL could well face a Covid-19 vaccination mandate dilemma after the New Zealand Breakers agreed to release star guard Tai Webster because of his stance to remain unvaccinated.

The Breakers confirmed on Monday that the franchise had “mutually agreed” to part ways with Webster due to his vaccination beliefs ahead of the 2021/22 NBL season.

New Zealand’s were left with little choice but to release the guard given Australian state regulations recommend athletes and the general public be vaccinated in order to travel overseas/interstate and to enjoy freedoms bought about by the gradual easing of lockdown and social distancing restrictions.

This means Webster wouldn’t be able to travel to away games in Australia if he opted to be unvacciated.

The Victorian state government unveiled its roadmap out of Covid-19 lockdown on Sunday – activities and freedoms will only be available to fully vaccinated people.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has ruled out interstate travel occurring at 70 per cent vaccination, which modelling suggests they will reach on October 26. It is not until vaccination levels reach 80 per cent that interstate travel into and out of Victoria will be considered; it will still be subject to other states’ rules.

The new NBL season is scheduled to start November 18, although the league is considering delaying the season until mid-December to maximise crowds.

The Breakers, who spent the majority of last season based in Melbourne due to Covid restrictions, have backed the proposal for a delayed season.

Spending months away from their families last season had a significant mental toll on the players, and the club is understandably keen to return to a normal season.

Webster had inked a new two-year contract with the Breakers in July, but since then it has become increasingly likely the team will again start the season in Australia due to the Delta outbreak.

Breakers owner Matt Walsh says he respects Webster’s decision to remain unvaccinated.

“Tai was amazing for us last year and we wish him the absolute best and I fully support each player’s freedom of choice in regard to the vaccine,” Walsh said.

“The club will keep the door open for Tai, but unfortunately we are living in extraordinary times and without being vaccinated he will not have freedom of travel which would allow him to play for us this season.”

The Breakers’ decision to part ways with Webster over his vaccination since has the potential to be a game-changer for the NBL and all professional sport, as more players could opt out due to their vaccination beliefs.

NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger has said the league won’t force players to be vaccinated, but stressed there would be ramifications if a player or official opted not to be jabbed.

Loeliger also revealed there are only a “handful of players” indicating a desire not to be vaccinated.

“At this point, we are not going to mandate vaccinations for players, coaches and staff, but we will continue to educate our people and will strongly recommend it,” Loeliger said.

“It may be that those who don’t get vaccinated won’t be able to travel between states and countries, or even enter certain venues, and therefore won’t be able to participate in some games when the season begins.

“Individuals that decide not to get vaccinated could be subjected to different rules, depending on various government protocols and restrictions.”

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