‘We are living in extraordinary times’: NBL team cuts player due to anti-vax stance

One of the National Basketball League’s most successful clubs has parted ways with a star player because of his unwillingness to be vaccinated – the first such example in Australian sport.

Tai Webster, who joined the New Zealand Breakers last season and signed a new two-year deal in July, has been released from his contract by mutual consent, according to a team statement.

Tai Webster’s NBL career could be over due to his stance against COVID-19 vaccination.Credit:Getty Images

The Breakers are likely to be based in Melbourne to begin the new season, which is slated to begin on November 18, due to difficulties travelling between Australia and New Zealand.

The four-time NBL champions said in their statement that Victoria’s road map out of lockdown released on Sunday showed that certain “activities and freedoms will only be available to fully vaccinated people” in that state.

It is unclear what aspect of the road map has prompted the team to cut Webster, but NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger warned earlier this month that, while the league would not mandate vaccinations for players, they may struggle to enter some venues or travel between certain states without the jab and thus be unable to play games.

Breakers owner Matt Walsh said he respected Webster’s decision to remain unvaccinated and mentioned restrictions on travel were behind the decision.

“Tai was amazing for us last year and we wish him the absolute best. I fully support each player’s freedom of choice in regards to the vaccine,” Walsh said.

“The club will keep the door open for Tai, but unfortunately we are living in extraordinary times and without being vaccinated he will not have freedom of travel which would allow him to play for us this season.”

Webster, 26, represented New Zealand at the 2014 FIBA World Cup and was part of the Breakers team that won the NBL title in 2013.

The Breakers and the NBL have been contacted for further clarification.

The move comes as sporting teams and competitions across Australia grapple with the thorny issue of how to deal with players who refuse to be vaccinated.

In NSW, crowds will be permitted again at sporting events once the state hits the 70 per cent double vaccination milestone, but only for people who are fully vaccinated. However, no league or competition has yet mandated vaccination for players.

“At this point, we are not going to mandate vaccinations for players, coaches and staff, but we will continue to educate our people and will strongly recommend it,” Loeliger said in a statement on September 9 when it emerged that a Sydney Kings player had contracted COVID-19, forcing the team to suspend pre-season training.

“It may be that those who don’t get vaccinated won’t be able to travel between states and countries, or even enter certain venues, and therefore won’t be able to participate in some games when the season begins.

“Individuals that decide not to get vaccinated could be subjected to different rules depending on various government protocols and restrictions.”


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