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Ireland midfielder Jack Byrne says Novak Djokovic needs to 'set example' over vaccines

Byrne warns the world No.1 tennis ace to stop courting anti-vaxxers and show care for fans who take his advice
Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

Kevin Palmer

IRELAND midfielder Jack Byrne says sports superstars like Novak Djokovic have a duty to act as role models for their fans - as he hits out at those spinning conspiracy theories over Covid vaccines.

Djokovic was caught in a major storm after ­being stopped by a border patrol at Melbourne airport on Wednesday, where his visa was cancelled as he failed to meet the criteria for unvaccinated visitors to Australia.

He won his appeal against the visa cancellation at a court hearing on Monday, but doubts remains over whether the Australian Federal Government will allow him to stay in the country and compete in the Australian Open, which gets underway next Monday.

Amid the circus Djokovic has helped to create due to his refusal to take a vaccine, he is quickly becoming a hero for anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists around the world, with widespread criticism of his stance from stars names in tennis, politics and entertainment.

Now Byrne has suggested sports stars have a part to play in encouraging the take-up of vaccines, as the 25-year-old reflected on his own alarming Covid infection in 2020.

"A lot of people look up to sports people and they have to set an example in situations like this," Shamrock Rovers star Byrne told the Sunday World in an exclusive Sunday World interview ahead of the launch of EA SPORTS FIFA Team of the Year campaign.

"What we have seen with ­Djokovic this week has been amazing and the reaction in ­Serbia has been massive because he is such a big star there.

"Whether he is anti-vaxx or whatever his stance is, people who look up to him are going to be influenced by what he is doing and maybe follow his lead.

"The more people that take the vaccine, the quicker we can all get out of this, that's how I see it," he said.

"I got a bad dose of Covid. I missed six weeks of football and it wasn't a nice experience at all, so when the vaccines became available, I knew I had to take it for my own health and to protect the people around me."

6 December 2020; Jack Byrne of Shamrock Rovers during the Extra.ie FAI Cup Final match between Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

6 December 2020; Jack Byrne of Shamrock Rovers during the Extra.ie FAI Cup Final match between Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Premier League clubs in ­England have been forced to call off numerous football games in recent weeks, with large ­numbers of unvaccinated ­players isolating when they have come into close contact with a Covid case.

That issue remains a big threat to a variety of sports proceeding in 2022 and Byrne suggests ­misinformation on social ­media networks is driving the ­anti-vaxx movement.

"Some people are getting their information from Instagram or other social media networks, but I prefer to listen to qualified medical experts and if they tell me the vaccines are safe and they will protect me, that's advice worth listening to," he added.

"Also, young people might think they don't need a vaccine because they are young and fit, but I can tell you that this is not a nice thing to get.

"We are getting our boosters next week at Shamrock Rovers and that will help us as we travel for European matches and we are all happy to get it, but we have seen issues with some footballers not taking the vaccine.

"I'd encourage every footballer to take it because the close contacts issue and the isolation that follows if you are not vaccinated is so much more strict and it's tough for sport to continue then."

Meanwhile, former Ireland and Liverpool striker John Aldridge has revealed he ­tested positive for Covid over the Christmas period.

The 63-year-old only had mild symptoms and is now fully recovered, as he encouraged everyone to take the vaccines on offer.

"I have had three jabs now and that must have helped me when I got Covid," Aldo told us.

"It didn't affect me too badly, but we are seeing people going into hospital who have not ­taken a vaccine and they must be regretting that decision.

"Listen to the people who know what they are talking about rather than some nut jobs on Facebook who are trying to get likes by telling you vaccines are dangerous and Covid is a hoax," the Ireland footballing legend warned.

"We all want to get out of this as quick as we can and for me, that means rolling my sleeve up and tacking a vaccine.

"I don't like doing it, but it's the best option we have available right now, so we have to go with it."

Jack Byrne spoke to the Sunday World in an exclusive interview ahead of the launch of EA SPORTS FIFA Team of the Year campaign. Full details HERE

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