Kingston Mills: Covid certs should play key role in mass participation sporting events

Immunologist also believes use of certs at events can help boost vaccination drive

A view of the start of the 2018 SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon. Photograph: Oisín Keniry

Mass participation sporting events such as the Dublin Marathon should be subjected to a mandatory Covid-19 vaccination certificate, as should all mass sporting spectator events, according to Prof Kingston Mills of Trinity College in Dublin.

Mills was speaking in the aftermath of Thursday's announcement by Jack Chambers, the Minister of State for Sport, which cleared the way for indoor juvenile sports competition to resume, the Government overturning the requirement all players under-18 produce a vaccine cert in order to participate in indoor competitions in this country for the foreseeable future.

However, with Covid-19 cases rising across the country and the world, the issue of the vaccine cert in the sporting realm is not going away, indoors or out. Earlier this week, the Boston Marathon announced their field size for the 126th running of event, scheduled to take place on April 18th, 2022 has been established as 30,000, but that all runners must be fully vaccinated in order to participate.

Also this week, Parkrun Australia cancelled its Victorian schedule indefinitely because of mandatory Covid vaccination requirements: under stage C of the state government’s roadmap, parkruns are classified as “physical recreation” and require all attendees to be checked for their vaccination status prior to the event for it to go ahead. However, Parkrun Australia said: the “logistics” of mandating its volunteers to confirm the vaccination status of all participants would “fundamentally break” its simple operating model.


Mills comes eminently qualified on both fronts: Professor of Experimental Immunology, he’s also run a 2:13.55 marathon and represented Ireland over the classic distance on the world stage. On the matter of mass sporting events such as the Dublin Marathon requiring a vaccine cert, the issue is not the running of the event, rather all that comes with it.

“I do think it’s a good idea, for all sorts of reasons, although I don’t think that running a marathon next to someone on the street is any great issue,” says Mills. “It’s all the other things, athletes getting to and from the start, and even on the start line, runners are very, very crowded together. You’re not going to be socially distanced at the start line of a marathon. Once the runners are spread out it’s not an issue.

“With 90 per cent of the population over the age of 12 now vaccinated, it’s not going to impinge on many people, requiring a Covid cert. And as more and more get the booster vaccine, there is even stronger reason for the Covid cert, because there is evidence already here in Ireland, from the nursing homes, the booster shots are working.

“So we do have to encourage this, every facet of society has to embrace the vaccines, and I think encouraging people to get vaccinated by making it mandatory to participate in an activity which could be considered to be non-essential, like the Dublin Marathon. If they want to do it, do it safely by getting the vaccine, there is nothing wrong with that.”

Professor of Experimental Immunology Kingston Mills ran for Ireland in the marathon. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The Dublin Marathon was cancelled for a second successive year, the 25,000 sell-out of entries rolled over again until October 2022. In a statement to The Irish Times, the organisers said: “No decisions have been made as of yet by the Dublin Marathon organisers regarding the requirements for vaccinations.”

The matter of vaccine cert requirements comes to more immediate attention with Saturday’s opening autumn rugby international between Ireland and Japan at the Aviva; next Thursday Ireland host Portugal in their World Cup qualifier, followed two days later by Ireland against New Zealand, both those games a 51,700 sell-out.

An IRFU email to prospective ticket buyers for all three autumn internationals stated: “Patrons may be required to provide their Covid certificate and ID to gain entry. It is critical that all patrons purchasing tickets are aware of these criteria for entry to the stadium.”

Similarly, the FAI have not issued an absolute requirement of a vaccine cert; on that matter, Mills added: “I do think the requirement should be that everyone going to a mass sporting event should have a Covid cert, it’s a great way of encouraging vaccination.

“Take rugby for example, they’ve really bought into the vaccination, almost all the players have been vaccinated at this stage, so the main issue around is spectators. I would be much happier going into a stadium knowing that everyone around me had been vaccinated, even knowing vaccination doesn’t prevent transmission of the virus, it does reduce the chance of severe disease.

“I think Sport Ireland needs to take the lead on this, to work a directive to the sporting bodies for what they consider to be a safe event that may not need Covid vaccine certs, and the ones that do. It shouldn’t be that difficult, a lot of it is common sense. Leaving it entirely to the sporting organisations to make up their minds could be problematic, there needs to be common policy across all sports.

“The bottom line is we’ve got to maintain sport for all, knowing the benefits for all, from the health of young children, to the mental and physical health of adults, we have to do everything to maintain it. And if that means having Covid certs around certain competitions well so be it.

“I think it would be great to get that consistency across all sporting bodies, and also the huge benefit of it. The bottom line is that the Covid cert is not discommoding a lot of people, and if this might encourage additional people to get the vaccine it would be in the common good.”