THE INTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY FOUNDED IN 1840
FOR A PINT
The British government is right to ensure that people entering the country who may be infected with the Covid virus are identified and isolated. But implementation has not been easy, with people queuing at Heathrow airport for up to six hours while their documentation is scrupulously checked. This does not bode well for the proposal that similar checks should also be introduced internally, for instance before someone wants to enter a public house or restaurant. A sixhour queue for a pint of bitter is a strong argument for teetotalism. Yet it is true that anyone who has received one or both anti-Covid vaccinations, or who has recently proved negative for the disease in a test, will have paperwork – sometimes called a Covid passport – to prove it.
So what is to stop a pub landlord, say, demanding to see such evidence before allowing entr y, saying they have a duty of care towards their other customers? Probably nothing, though there is a theoretical risk that they might being accused of racial discrimination if it becomes clear that those least likely to have been vaccinated are from Black or ethnic minority communities. That could count as indirect discrimination under the law.
But there are more principled grounds for objecting to such a proposal, especially if it concerned access to facilities such as public transport, local authority swimming pools, street markets and so on. There is a healthy British instinct against being required to carry paperwork to prove one’s entitlement to go about one’s daily business. When compulsory identity cards were being mooted as a way of controlling illegal immigration, mainstream public opinion was largely opposed to it. In a free society, people should be allowed to do whatever they like unless the law expressly forbids it.
The devil is in the detail, which is where the proposal for so-called vaccine passports may fall apart. There are people – for instance those with certain immune conditions or allergies, and pregnant women – who have not been given general clearance for a Covid vaccination. There are those with sincere conscientious objections to vaccines. Pub landlords or anyone else having to decide who may enter their premises can hardly be expected to cope with those complications. So even without objections on ethical grounds, the simple idea of a Covid passport of some sort begins to collapse under the weight of its complexities and contradictions. A simple temperature check on entry may have to suffice.
A more difficult case is presented by individuals who decline to be vaccinated but who work in close proximity to vulnerable people, such as in residential and nursing homes. Should they be forced to choose between having a vaccination against their will or losing their job? Such establishments have a duty of care to their residents, and could be liable under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 if a resident caught Covid from a staff member. But they also have a duty not to discriminate. This is clearly a legal and moral minefield.
SOCCER SUPER LEAGUE
TAKE DOWN THESE GIANTS
Like life, top-flight football has never been conducted on the metaphorical level playing field. There are always the relative giants, who maintain their status through intimidation as much as by superior intelligence or agility; and the upstarts with the wits and daring to take them on. One of the most enduring motifs in human history is that of David and Goliath. The whole world, including the sporting world, loves a giant-killer.
This week, six English football clubs – Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur – joined with three leading teams from Spain and three from Italy to form a putative European Super League. While the status of several of them as a Goliath is questionable – these are neither the richest nor the most successful 12 teams in Europe (it is 60 years since Tottenham Hotspur, for example, won their domestic league trophy) – they hope to create a cartel designed to guarantee that they will never have to face the humiliation of being defeated by an upstart David.
Once, these six English clubs drew on the loyalty of people in their locales. But today the “fan base” for the biggest teams is not local but global. They enjoy the loyalty of millions, not through support passed down through the generations of a family, but by virtue of the calculations of marketing professionals. The motives of the owners of the six clubs are crudely obvious. They lust after the lucrative TV rights and advertising revenues engendered by globalised loyalties. “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public,” Adam Smith wrote with trenchant wisdom in The Wealth of Nations. But just as capitalists tend towards monopoly and must be restrained by regulation, so this footballing cabal trying to rig the market must be reined in.
Resistance to these plans on the part of football fans – including supporters of the six clubs – is almost universal. Uefa, the sport’s governing body in Europe, has said players participating in the Super League could be banned from all Uefa and Fifa competitions, including representing their national sides at the World Cup. That should make some pause for thought.
“Glamour” clubs have always attracted the best players, but the essence of any sporting enterprise – genuine competition – has clung on. Little more than 30 years ago, one of the six clubs was in the second tier of English football and another was in the third. The memory of humiliation is part of the ecstasy of victor y. Every supporter knows that at the end of a game, as in life, the cards fall where they will. The Super League would suffocate the mystery of triumph and despair built into every football conversation. These preening, pampered, would-be Goliaths are frightened of facing a David in an open contest. They want to create a fortress where there will be no relegation, no promotion; no Hell, no Heaven; only a dismal, dispiriting, endless abasement to Mammon. They must be stopped.
2 | THE TABLET | 24 APRIL 2021