Romania's FCSB deny owner's suggestion to not pick vaccinated players

Romanian side FCSB, formerly known as Steaua Bucharest, will not drop players who have received the COVID-19 vaccine after their owner Gigi Becali suggested they would no longer be selected, the club said on Wednesday.

Becali, the flamboyant owner of the club, told Romanian TV channel Pro X that vaccinated players would not be allowed to play as they are weaker. However, the club said that would not be the case, adding that Becali was only joking.

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"It is not true that vaccinated players will not play," the club's spokesperson told Reuters. "There are more than a dozen vaccinated players in our squad."

Romania, however, is the European Union's second-least vaccinated country after Bulgaria, with roughly 42% of the population fully inoculated, reflecting mistrust in state institutions and poor vaccine education.

FCSB are second in the Romanian top flight, eight points behind CFR Cluj after 27 matches.

Becali is no stranger to controversy, having once said his team's poor run in the Romanian league was down to their players having too much sex.

The 63-year-old, a former shepherd who made a fortune in real estate after the fall of communism in 1989 and also served as a member of the European Parliament, has previously interfered in team decisions.

Fans of the 1986 European Cup winners have also protested his ownership by throwing fake €500 banknotes with his face printed on them onto the pitch during a Europa League qualifier in 2019.