Novak Djokovic has to prove the vaccination exemption or go home before the Australian Open
BRISBANE, Australia – With his approved medical exemption, Novak Djokovic may have to make some statements when he comes to Melbourne to defend his Australian Open title.
The exception allows high-ranking Djokovic to participate in the tournament regardless of his vaccination status for COVID-19, an issue he hasn’t resolved, despite months of speculation that he might miss the season opener, unless he can prove he can received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
This is an entry requirement mandated by the state government of Victoria for all players, staff, fans and officials who enter Melbourne Park when the tournament begins on January 17th.
His reveal on social media that he was heading to Australia looking for a record-breaking 21. Major title traveled sparked some debate and headlines on Wednesday, with critics questioning Djokovic’s reasons for the exception and supporters defending his right to privacy.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the “perfectly legitimate motion and process” insisting that there was no special treatment for Djokovic.
Only 26 people associated with the tennis grand slam event requested an exemption, and only a “handful” – estimated at around five – were granted, according to Tiley.
Applicants’ names, ages and nationalities were blacked out for privacy reasons before each application for a waiver was assessed by two independent panels of experts, and Tiley noted that Djokovic is not required to give his reason for applying for a vaccine.
However, he suggested it would be “helpful” if Djokovic explained to a Melbourne public who are still getting over months of bans and strict travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic.
“I would encourage him to speak to the community about it,” said Tiley. “We have had a very difficult time in the last two years.”
Allowable reasons for anyone requesting a vaccination waiver include an acute serious medical condition, a serious side effect to a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, or evidence of COVID-19 infection within the last six months.
Jaala Pulford, Victoria State Secretary of Sport, said: “Nobody will or will receive special treatment because of what they are or what they have accomplished professionally.”
“Many people in the Victorian community will find this a disappointing result, but the process is the process,” said Pulford. “Nobody has had any special treatment. The process is incredibly robust.”
Late Wednesday when Djokovic was passing through there was confusion over his visa status to enter the country.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison initially said the decision was a matter for the government of Victoria, where Melbourne is the state capital.
“You have deployed [Djokovic] to come to Australia with a waiver and we will act in accordance with that, “said Morrison.
Home Secretary Karen Andrews made it clear in a statement that the Australian Border Force would make the final decision.
“While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia can allow an unvaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, the Commonwealth government will enforce our requirements at the Australian border,” said Andrews. “If an arriving person is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable evidence that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons in order to have access to the same travel arrangements as fully vaccinated travelers.”
When asked about Djokovic, Morrison later added: “If this evidence is insufficient, he will be treated no differently from others and he will fly home on the next plane.”
“So if medical exemptions have been granted by medical professionals and that has been made available to him as a reservation to get on that plane, that will have to pile up when he arrives in Australia.”
Morrison said there have been numerous cases in the past few years where people have been required to produce appropriate evidence to support their claims for medical exemption, “so the circumstance is not unique”.
Even later, Victoria state politician Pulford tweeted to say, “The federal government asked if we support Novak Djokovic’s application to enter Australia.”
The country will not provide individual application support and added in a second contribution: “We were always clear on two points: Visa approvals are a matter for the federal government, medical exceptions are a matter for the doctors.”
Djokovic tested positive for the coronavirus in 2020 after playing in a series of exhibition games he organized in Serbia and Croatia without social distancing himself amid the pandemic.
It’s not inconceivable that Djokovic, 34, who narrowly scored a 2021 Grand Slam win in the calendar year when he lost the US Open final to Daniil Medvedev, could be infected again.