FAI missed the boat when it came to getting on top of Callum Robinson story

Statement came after story was the topic of choice for morning news shows

Stephen Kenny’s term as Ireland manager has been hounded by issues relating to Covid-19. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Stephen Kenny’s term as Ireland manager has been hounded by issues relating to Covid-19. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

On Tuesday evening the FAI appeared not to realise the impact of Callum Robinson’s casual revelation that his body remains Covid-19 vaccine free. By Wednesday lunchtime any hope of this war of opinion being waged on someone else’s patch was lost.

The subsequent backlash or support, depending on what side of the ‘anti-vax’ debate you reside, even prompted a spot of national ranting and raving on Liveline.

Never a good sign for any sporting body, particularly one in dire need of a win and a sponsor, to hear Joe Duffy noting that Robinson has scored more bouts of Covid than goals for Ireland.

Like Ronaldo, the virus struck twice.

At this point, the FAI communications department attempted to get their arms around the fall-out from Robinson’s remarks with a statement that seems to condemn and support the vague stance taken by the West Brom striker.

Robinson’s position can be neatly summed up by the sentence of a generation – “it is what it is” – but the FAI went slightly further with a four paragraph retort that is the equivalent of War and Peace, judging by their recent one liners.

“The Football Association of Ireland can confirm that all players and staff are tested for Covid-19 before reporting for international duty with Republic of Ireland teams and are tested repeatedly in camp in line with FAI and Uefa protocols,” the Abbotstown missive began.

Vaccinated players are tested four days out from Saturday’s World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan but Robinson and a possible nine other players in the squad must be swabbed at least twice more.

“We have encouraged all our players at all levels of the game to be vaccinated but we respect and must accept the right of all individuals to make a personal choice on Covid-19 vaccination.”

This repeats Kenny’s view on Tuesday moments after Robinson apparently became the first professional footballer in the UK to publicly burrow down this rabbit hole (if this is a private medical issue it can be cleared up with an off the record briefing to leave well alone).

The last two paragraphs mention “stakeholders” on two occasions, which may be a nod to potential sponsors that all will be all right. Robinson openly disagreeing with the strongly held pro-vaccination views of Kenny, Jürgen Klopp and now the FAI is what gives this story legs.

“I just haven’t, I just haven’t done it,” said the 26-year-old in response to Klopp’s ‘drunk driving’ analogy. “I know, as you said, there are managers and people that will want you to do it, which is right in their way, the way they think, but everyone has their choice and what they want to do. I wouldn’t force people to do it, it’s your choice and your body.”

The potential for this issue to blow up in Kenny and the FAI’s face has existed since Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock lifted the lid on the way players think about vaccines back in August.

“I’ve no idea where they’re getting their advice from,” said Warnock “but I think it’s the wrong advice.”

Kenny has a pretty good idea where the advice is coming from. That he admitted the “virility myth” cannot be dispelled by team doctors means the fact versus rumour mill battle has some way still to run.

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