‘I will not live in fear’ – Johnathon Ford on Toulouse Olympique exit and future plans

Johnathon Ford spent ten years at Toulouse Olympique helping the club to reach its goal of promotion to Super League. But last week he took the agonising decision to leave the club after French government Covid-control restrictions proved too much for him and his family to bear.

The 32-year-old Australian-born club captain always stood out for his imposing 6’5” frame in the halfbacks at Toulouse and his uncompromising stance on the vaccination issue, which is currently dividing France, has made him stand out in the headlines.

Current French legislation requires citizens to carry a vaccination pass if they are to access many public services, and they also prohibits professional sportsmen or women from playing in the country without full vaccination against the virus.

Ford and his family lead a holistic and organic lifestyle and they have chosen not to be vaccinated.

Both the player and club management have remained silent on the issue because of its personal nature, but Ford was asked by League Express’s Steve Brady if he would like to let supporters know his feelings on the issue and explain why he had to make one of the most difficult decisions in his life.

Here are his words…

Johnathon, How are you feeling following your decision?

“It’s been a crazy couple of weeks and it’s been very stressful.

“I’m not normally a stressful person in general, it’s probably the first time I’ve ever felt real stress, but I’m going into the unknown with a young family and stepping out of my comfort zone.

“At the same time there has been a sense of relief that I’m doing what’s right for me, and to be a better husband and father to my family. We just want to live the way we want to live.

“I’ve never wrapped my life around being a Rugby League player. I had confidence in myself that I could work hard and make a career of it, but the most important thing to me is the health and the safety and wellbeing of my family and the ability to provide a living for them.

“The most important thing for me is to be living a holistically healthy life, being a great father and a great husband.

“I knew that stepping away would be challenging but for me it’s something that needed to happen.”

Are you what is being termed as an ‘Anti-Vaxxer?’

“I’m not anti-anything at all – that’s where everybody gets caught up in this kind of stuff. I’m just pro-choice and I live a very holistic lifestyle.

“The way I eat and drink, it’s all organic and holistic and it is very important to me. Everybody should have the right to choose how they want to live.

“It’s important that we stay united and don’t get divided on such issues because a lot of people are living in fear, which is understandable because it’s all they know.

“The more we educate ourselves and look after ourselves, the people in our communities, and love each other, the more expansive we are and we can evolve together.

“I’m talking about on a world scale as well; what’s needed right now, is unity, love, and not fear and division. That’s the big thing for me.”

Have you been supported in your decision?

“I’ve cried so many tears in the last couple of weeks; I was scared and unsure of the future but those tears turned into ones of joy and gratitude thanks to the number of people who have reached out to me and shown their support.

“From past players and current team-mates, family, friends and people who I’ve never even spoken to before.

“I’m not on social media; I don’t do any of that stuff because for me that’s a distraction. I’m trying to be the best bloke I can be, but my wife has let me know that there has been a lot of love coming my way and I’m extremely grateful for it.

“And I’m grateful to all the boys I’ve played with; they challenged me to be a better man, a better bloke and father. And the same goes for the supporters; I’ve got a role and a responsibility to always do my best for the team and the fans.

“They are the ones who make all this possible and provide the money for us to make a living in the game.

“They make Rugby League possible and sometimes players are told to stay away and not interact with the media or supporters and I can understand that for some.

“But the supporters pay each week to watch us play; they buy the merchandise and read the papers.

“Without any supporters we’re just running around on a field playing footy, which I’d be happy to do because I love footy.

“They have given me an opportunity to play on the other side of the world, to grow from a boy and turn into a man living in alignment.

“It all goes back to love and unity; we can’t divide or separate because we are all one going forward wherever it is, in sport, or any form or walk of life.

“The messages I’ve had from supporters have been amazing.”

Would you return to Toulouse Olympique if the rules were relaxed?

“I wouldn’t write off anything, but now it doesn’t look that way. I’ve got some other family things going on as well that I need to handle, so there are a few moving parts to what’s going on right now.

“The overarching thing for me is living in alignment and standing in my truth and living in love, not fear.

“I would love people to have a little think about that and weigh up the philosophy of unity.”

Will you move to the UK or Australia?

“There are no immediate plans to leave the country yet. I’ve got a young family so I’ve got a lot of things to organise and to put in place to see where we’re going and what the next step is.

“The most important thing for me is to be around a community of support for my wife and my kids, wherever that is.

“At the moment France just isn’t that place right now; it’s a disappointing time here now.

“I’ve loved France and I’m grateful for everything it has given me. It’s made me the person I am today and I’m very grateful for that.

“But right now it’s not conducive for me and my family to live the life that we want with the support that we need.

“France has always been very easy for me and my family but right now there’s no sense of community and my priority to love and care for my family in the right environment.”

Will you be keeping in touch with your former club-mates?

“I’ll be following Toulouse Olympique; I love the place; I love the boys and all the past players who had a massive role in my life.

“Sylvain (Houles, Toulouse coach) has been supportive and really helped me a lot to grow as a player and a man.

“Adam Innes (fitness trainer) has been really influential too and I’m very grateful for all of his advice and guidance.

“This club has been one-third of my life so far, so 100 per cent I will be following the boys and wishing them well.

“I’ve got great friends here with Mark Kheirallah and Greg White (former Toulouse player, currently on the coaching staff as Wellness Manager) who have always been there for me.

“Greg’s moving away because of all of the laws and the uncertainty too.”

Do you think the current squad can succeed in the top flight?

“If everyone in the club pulls together then there is no reason why they cannot be successful in Super League.

“It comes back again to the theme of love and unity, that’s what makes us special and human. It’s a bit philosophical but it’s my strong belief.

“There have been so many great moments at the club, but just seeing the joy on everyone’s faces in that last game when we clinched promotion was the very best.

“We knew we were capable and we were willing and worked hard; it was an incredible feeling to finally achieve it.

“Everyone was so grateful and happy; it was surreal.

“When that final buzzer went and we were promoted, it was like an explosion of love and happiness.

“There have been tough times too, when you’re injured or things aren’t going right, but you look back and see they were opportunities to grow.”

When asked whether he is planning to continue his career as a professional Rugby League player, Ford replied: “Yes, for sure, but at the moment I am choosing to live in love and stop living in fear.”

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.