Malta international footballer Kyrian Nwoko has claimed the national team’s coach Devis Mangia had threatened to exclude players from a training camp unless they get vaccinated against COVID-19.
In a Facebook post this morning, the Valletta FC player recounted how the Malta international team had been training for weeks to visit Austria for an extended training camp and friendly games when the national team coach [Devis Mangia] informed them they would be administered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Nwoko said he immediately informed the team manager that he wasn’t interested in getting the shot.
“The next day just before training the National Team coach encircled us outside on the pitch to give the usual pre-training speech during which he said to everyone ‘You must take the vaccine or else you won’t be coming to Austria’,” he said.
“At that time no government in the world had yet taken such radical action, let alone a national team. Again, I refused.”
Nwoko said the coach summoned him for a personal meeting in his dressing room the following day, where he told him that it was in his best interest to get vaccinated as UEFA would be making the jab mandatory in September.
“To this day UEFA has taken no such action.”
Nwoko said he believes the team was coerced to get vaccinated as part of a PR stunt to persuade people to get the shot. Indeed, Health Minister Chris Fearne and MFA president Bjorn Vassallo were both present when the players got vaccinated.
“You are role models for the many fans that follow you in every match you play,” Fearne had said back then. “In this case you are leading by example in our battle against the pandemic”.
Nwoko didn’t give any particular reason as to why he chose not to get vaccinated.
However, he described that moment as “one of the toughest periods of my life” and said various players told him they didn’t want to take the shot at that particular time either but felt they had no choice.
He said that while he never intended to share his experience, he decided to so after witnessing “the suffering people have endured during this tyranny”, with hope that people going through similar situations will “find the courage and strength to stick to what they believe in”.
Nwoko has played 21 times for the national team, scoring three goals against Latvia, the Faroe Islands and Gibraltar. Last summer, he was loaned to Irish Premier Division side St Patrick’s Fc.
His statement comes four days before the implementation of new rules, which will limit entry to bars, restaurants, gyms, sporting events and other venues to adequately vaccinated people. The Nationalist Party yesterday urged the government to scrap these rules, warning they don’t strike the right balance between public health and people’s freedoms.
Cover photo: Left: Kyrian Nwoko (Photo: St Patrick’s Athletic FC), Right: Health Minister Chris Fearne attends the vaccination of MFA players (Photo: MFA)
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