Post Debate: Are Canada's Vaccine Rules Fair?
Yesterday, on twitter, The Post's Grayson Chalmers and Chief War Pig found themselves on opposite sides of the ongoing debate over Canada's vaccination rules for athletes entering the country to play sports. Rather than continue to fight 280 characters at a time, they took their conversation here for everyone to enjoy.
GRAYSON CHALMERS: I guess I’ll get started by clarifying exactly the point I will be arguing, because I know pigs can get confused. I am not arguing the game this weekend should be played in Montreal: It shouldn’t. I am also not arguing for or against the merits of Canada’s specific policy here. Finally, I am not going to argue whether it is wise for a sports league to span two separate countries - it is already given that MLS does.
So I will state a simple point: In a cross-border league, teams will have to deal with legal/entry requirements from both countries. Those requirements may differ, and occasionally, a player might not be able to cross the border for a game. That fact alone does not justify uprooting the teams playing in that country until it changes its laws.
In addition, I think Canada is perfectly within its rights to require non-vaccinated people to quarantine, and to not make exceptions from this rule for MLS.
Finally,I would prefer more advance notice of impending games in Canada so that players can be vaccinated. However, it was entirely foreseeable that games would be played in Canada this year, it was foreseeable that Canada would have vaccine-related restrictions, and it was foreseeable that it would take far advance notice to get fully vaccinated before certain games. Players should have considered this, and the team should have explained it to them fully if they did not. (Difficulties with work visas, however, are not a good excuse to force players to miss a game, because those difficulties can be resolved more quickly with reasonable notice.)
CHIEF WAR PIG: I think, right from the outset, it has to be said that a large part of the reason this is a debate is because we've reached a point in modern society where vaccination status has become a political symbol. This manifests itself, primarily, in an Ivan Drago attitude towards people who have chosen (for whatever reason) not to receive the vaccine ("If he dies, he dies!"). This attitude means it's difficult to have any kind of conversation with people about this subject because the desire to virtue signal and say "This outcome is all the fault of the unvaccinated" is so strong with many.
Having said that, my point is also simple: One of the basic tenets of a sports league is requiring that all games contested in said league follow the same rules.
Imagine the absurdity of cities in the NFL banning players named "Thomas" from playing football, or if LeBron James had been able to successfully lobby the state of Ohio to make all 3 pointers count for 1 point during the years where he was getting ass kicked repeatedly by Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. As fun as it would to be to see that happen (so long as the TVA didn't prune those alternate realities), it would be an absolute joke to the competitive fairness of games. And, more importantly, sports leagues wouldn't stand for it because the fairness of the outcome depends on all games being contested under the same rules no matter where the games are played.
In this instance, we're talking about validly rostered players, who are eligible for selection in every city except Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, being denied the ability to compete for their teams. This isn't a debate about the sovereignty of Canada to pass laws or use Monopoly money at their games -- they have every right as a nation to do whatever they think is necessary to keep their citizens safe (though, I'd argue that if all this is so dangerous that they won't let regular Americans cross the border, they shouldn't be making an exception for athletes). But, if their laws make it so that the games played there vastly differ in sporting fairness than elsewhere in the league, the games there are a sham and shouldn't be played.
I'll pose you this hypothetical then -- if what Canada is doing is OK, should the league also stage games in Nashville if the cartoon villains running that state decide to ban vaccinated athletes from competing?
GRAYSON: Ah yes, the classic move of attacking a real thing by resorting to an unrelated absurdity. I will answer your question directly, but first I want to address a few of your points.
First, it is simply inaccurate to treat vaccination status, on either side, as purely a political symbol. Turning down the vaccination (absent certain medical conditions unlikely to afflict elite athletes) is an irrational decision borne of fear, ignorance, or prejudice, and yes, it is truly an empty political gesture in many or most cases. But getting the vaccination has the benefit of protecting yourself and those around you from carrying a deadly disease. Canada is wholly within its rights to prefer that outsiders be vaccinated or quarantine - particularly as many of those most itching to travel and party are those who have been the most resistant to complying with restrictions or be vaccinated in the first place.
Second, Canada is not making an athlete exception here. Canada is holding athletes to the same restrictions as it holds other foreign visitors. Regular vaccinated Americans can go to Canada for approved purposes, and unvaccinated Americans can go if they follow the appropriate protocols.
Third, MLS already creates inconsistent results from immigration laws. For example, Canadian teams can count US nationals and green card holders as domestic players, as well as Canadian citizens, while Canadian citizens do not count as domestic for US-based teams (absent a green card, like citizens of any other foreign country). Also, per reporting from Sports Illustrated, Trump's Muslim ban cost at least one team a designated player signing. Moreover, Vancouver just lost a properly registered DP - Ali Adnan - due to his inability to acquire a US visa for their extended residency in Salt Lake City.
Fourth, the players on the Canadian teams are human beings. They are away from their families and lives for extended periods. And Canadian fans deserve to attend games.
So while it is legitimate to expect sports teams to follow rules that are passed for the safety of a country's citizens - vaccination/testing protocols are more legitimate, I'd argue, than most of our country's immigration restrictions and certainly the Muslim ban - it is also perfectly fair for businesses to refuse to do business with states that impose on them through empty political gestures, such as banning vaccinated players. Two things are not the same. MLS should allow the teams to return to Canada with adequate notice to opponents to comply with Canadian restrictions as best they can. The timing in this case, however, is inexcusable.
CHIEF: None of what you said about Canadian immigration rostering rules changes the basic point here, though. When Toronto or Montreal take their roster to New York or Cincinnati, the rules for who can and cannot play don't change. Canadian "domestics" don't suddenly become internationals when they cross the border, forcing Canadian teams to buy more international spots to play in America. Everyone plays under the same roster rules in every competition, and player eligibility isn't dependent on the city they're playing in a given week. That isn't the case here -- an unvaccinated player is valid for selection on Saturday, invalid for selection a week later, then back to being valid for selection midweek all because of where matches are played. That's nonsense.
And yes, Canada is making an athlete exception here. Check Canada's website (aside: Canada's national domain suffix is .ca -- why the hell isn't .eh? They're missing such a great joke here. What's the website address? It's Canada.eh -- brilliant!) It's why neither one of us are eligible to travel to this match on an away day, even though we're both vaccinated. The border isn't open right now to anyone traveling with a "non-discretionary purpose." And we aren't even talking about the additional advantage this confers on the Canadian teams -- not having to deal with the people on social media the next day claiming "THE AWAY SECTION WAS LOUDER THAN YOUR FANS LOLLOL!" You can't put a dollar amount on the value of not seeing that dickhead in your timeline the morning after a match.
And not to sound heartless, but I don't care that Canadian born players are stuck away from their families / homes. It's soccer -- everyone is from somewhere else and homesick to a certain extent. Look what Loca went through last season. You don't think Brenner misses Brazil right now? We could ask him, but reddit informs me that no one in the organization speaks Portuguese -- so I'll just make assumptions. Homesickness doesn't justify changing the rules for who can play and not play a given match solely based on locality of the game. A player is either eligible to play in league matches or he isn't eligible to play in league matches, and if local government policies change that independent of league rules, the league shouldn't play matches there. Period.