Melbourne will unfurl their premiership flag when they host the Western Bulldogs in the 2022 AFL season opener to kick off a March football feast in Victoria.
Gun midfielder Bailey Smith has become the latest AFL star to support the COVID-19 vaccination push as the league considers making the jab mandatory for players and club staff.
Smith kicked a crucial late goal in the Western Bulldogs’ semi-final win over the Brisbane Lions on Saturday night, splitting the posts with his left-boot effort from the boundary line before turning to the crowd and pointing a finger to his left arm.
The demonstrative celebration drew immediate comparisons to NBA player D’Angelo Russell’s trademark “ice in the veins” on-court theatrics.
In a post-match interview with the Seven Network, Smith said he was inspired by Russell in an instinctive response to his shot flying through.
❄️ ICE IN HIS VEINS!
What a moment that was from Bailey Smith! 27 touches and three goals.
— ABC SPORT (@abcsport) September 4, 2021
The 20-year-old later took to Instagram to add further meaning to the show of emotion.
Alongside an image of the goal celebration, Smith posted the caption “get vaxxed cousin” with an ice cube emoji.
Smith’s public stance came two days after AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said he expects the league to formulate a position on compulsory vaccinations for players and club staff by the end of this season.
AFL Players’ Association chief executive Paul Marsh said members have been encouraged to get vaccinated, but the players’ union’s formal stance is against making the jab mandatory across the football industry.
Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield – who serves as the AFLPA president – and GWS captain Stephen Coniglio last month took part in a News Corp campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Collingwood’s Scott Pendlebury, Richmond’s Tom Lynch and Hawthorn’s Chad Wingard have also thrown their public support behind the vaccination push.
Several clubs have reported strong vaccination rates among players and staff since their respective seasons came to a close, but none have made the jab mandatory as yet.
Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale said in the last week the AFL would have to “carefully consider” taking the issue “out of the hands” of clubs and players.
The Tigers have publicly urged their cohort of more than 100,000 members to get vaccinated.
The AFL is hopeful full crowds will return across the country at some point next year after two seasons of ongoing restrictions, but recognises high vaccination rates will be crucial for that to happen.