The NBL's New Zealand Breakers have announced they have released breakout star Tai Webster due to his refusal to take the coronavirus vaccine.
The 26-year-old enjoyed a stellar season in 2021, earning himself a new two-year deal with the team which was announced back in July.
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That contract is no longer though, with Webster's refusal to be vaccinated meaning he will most likely be unable to travel between New Zealand and Australia, or potentially even between Australian states over his stance.
This created an untenable situation for the Breakers, who have a much more difficult travel burden coming from across the Tasman compared to the other Australian teams in the competition.
Breakers owner Matt Walsh said the team had to respect Webster's decision not to take the vaccine.
"Tai was amazing for us last year and we wish him the absolute best," Walsh said.
"I fully support each player's freedom of choice in regards to the vaccine.
"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."
Former NZ rugby player turned radio host Israel Dagg said Webster's decision was a shame, but told SENZ Webster was unlikely to be the last player to let their anti-vaccination views take precedence over their careers.
“Tai Webster is the first major athlete this has happened to, and he won’t be the last,” he said.
“That is their decision, but if you want to play sport and you want to be able to travel in the world, you are going to have to get a vaccination.
“For me, the vaccination is the only way forward to get some normality back in our lives."
NBL brothers Tai and Corey Webster under fire for anti-vax stance
Webster's older brother and fellow former Breakers star Corey faced a backlash last month after incorrectly claiming the Pfizer vaccine kills nearly as many people as the virus.
Corey Webster made the false claim on social media a few days after he left the Breakers by mutual consent with two years left on his contract.
On social media, fans were dismayed by Tai's decision to walk away from the club, but many also felt it was in the best interests of the game.
Freedom of choice has consequences. Hope #TaiWebster enjoys his freedom.
— Mike Maloney (@maloneytweet) September 20, 2021
Breakers basketball player, Tai Webster, let go because he won't get vaccinated. (His brother, Corey, was let go earlier in the year.)
You have to work with the team!
— Grant Jacobs 🧬🔬💻✍️📚🇳🇿 (@BioinfoTools) September 20, 2021
Tai Webster such a shame he doesn’t listen to official medical advice. It’s his choice but it’s a different world we live in now. Hopefully he doesn’t take horse dewormer
— Daman (@dmc_21) September 20, 2021
Yep exactly. His choice not to want to play. Soon will not be allowed out of his house either. Again his choice. Hope his decision is worth it to him.
Shame because Tai Webster is a promising player.
Breakers will find someone else. #NBL #Covid19NZ #NZPol
— 💧 Michael Q Todd 🌱 (@michaelqtodd) September 20, 2021
Tai Webster has mutually ended his contract with the New Zealand Breakers.
Webster wishes to remain un-vaccinated and that will make it difficult to play in this upcoming NBL season. Due to travel restrictions with non-vaccinated people between states and countries #nbl22 https://t.co/1f1AUiGvWo
— Lachie Everett (@LachieEverett) September 20, 2021
Earlier this month, NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said the league will not mandate vaccinations for players or staff, but "will continue to educate our people and will strongly recommend it".
"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," Loeliger said.
"Individuals that decide not to get vaccinated could be subjected to different rules depending on various government protocols and restrictions."
The NBL season is scheduled to begin on November 18.
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