Australian sports fans have threatened to boycott the Australian Open after the decision to grant Novak Djokovic a medical exemption from Covid-19 vaccination requirements to compete in the tournament.
The nine-times champion posted a picture of himself at an airport on Tuesday morning declaring that he had gained medical exemption and would now be making his journey to the tournament in Melbourne.
The state of Victoria does not allow unvaccinated people to enter unless they go through a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine.
But Australian Open organisers say a medical exemption was granted through a ‘rigorous review process’ that went via the country’s Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) guidelines.
In a tweet Djokovic wrote: ‘Happy New Year! Wishing you all health, love & joy in every moment & may you feel love & respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet.
‘I’ve spent fantastic quality time with loved ones over break & today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022.’
However some sports fans have since taken to social media to share their anger at the decision.
Novak Djokovic took to social media to confirm he would play in this year’s Australian Open after getting a medical exemption (Pictured: The tennis star heading to Melbourne to compete in the tournament)
The Serbian world No 1 has packed his bags and will take part in the January 17 tournament
One user wrote: ‘For the first time in decades I will not be watching the tennis. Novak Djokovic should not be given an exemption.
‘I hate the one rule for the rest of us, and another rule for the favoured few.’
While another commented: ‘So vaccinated Australians weren’t allowed to cross state borders to see their dying loved ones but Novak Djokovic is allowed to come here (possibly unvaccinated) from overseas to hit a tennis ball. Unbelievable.’
Another person added: ‘After everything that Victorians have been through, Novak Djokovic getting a vaccine exemption is nothing short of a kick in the guts. All those lockdowns, all that suffering. Seriously?’
Elsewhere another person said: ‘Watching the Australian Open every January is my favourite sports viewing.
‘The decision to allow Novak Djokovic to participate when he’s unvaccinated means I must boycott your telecast this year. Utterly appalled by this.
The process for getting an exemption is run independently of Tennis Australia and involves two separate medical panels from government health authorities.
The guidelines for getting an exemption require an ‘acute major medical condition’ in the individual.
The government health authorities are also said to look at applications without knowing who has submitted them.
In the Australian state of Victoria, those who are not vaccinated must undertake the mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine.
Queensland senator Matt Canavan said letting Djokovic play in the first grand slam of the year posed ‘little risk’ because the tennis star had contracted Covid-19 before.
‘Natural immunity by multiple studies is much, much stronger than the immunity you get from having a vaccination,’ Mr Canavan said on the Today show on Wednesday.
‘So there’s little risk here in letting Novak Djokovic in.’
The senator said on a ‘practical ground’ the player was unlikely to cripple Victoria’s health system after the state recorded 14,000 cases and 516 people in hospital.
‘Yes, some of us would love to see rules apply literally and constantly. But I think some of these rules are temporary,’ Mr Canavan said.
‘We’ve got to get back to a sensible world here and move on with life and thankfully, with the seemingly less lethal Omicron variant, I think we’re very close to that, and here perhaps is just another small step to ending the pandemic and returning, as I say, to the land of common sense.’
Australian Open organisers said the medical exemption was granted to the tennis player through a ‘rigorous review process’
Furious sports fans say they could boycott this year’s tournament due to Djokovic’s exemption
The move has already outraged many Australians, who have been told they cannot re-enter their own country unless they’re fully vaccinated or face two weeks in strict hotel quarantine, with many already expressing their fury online.
Jamie Murray, the British doubles player, also appeared to criticise the decision, having just competed in the ATP Cup.
When asked his thoughts he said: ‘I think if it was me that wasn’t vaccinated I wouldn’t be getting an exemption.’
He added: ‘But well done to him for getting clear to come to Australia and compete.’
Djokovic contracted Covid-19 while hosting a party in the middle of the pandemic and has never explicitly revealed if he is or isn’t jabbed.
However he is well-known for his freedom of choice views on the vaccine and has previously expressed his scepticism.
Currently vaccination exemptions are only handed out in Australia to people who have had anaphylaxis after a previous vaccine or an ingredient in the provided jabs.
People who are immunocompromised can also receive an exemption in some circumstances.
Since the Serbian tennis star has been granted an exemption, he will not have to enter two weeks of hotel quarantine – like un-vaccinated arrivals must.
Instead, Djokovic will have to follow the same rules as fully-vaccinated travellers – taking a PCR test on arrival and isolating until the result comes through.
It comes despite strong words from the Australian Open Director Craig Tilley and the Victorian Premier who vowed unvaccinated attendees would not be welcome.
‘It’s been made very clear when the Premier announced that in order to participate at the Australian Open, to come into Victoria, you’ll need to be fully vaccinated,’ TA CEO and Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley said last year.
‘It is the one direction that you take, that you can ensure everyone’s safety. All the playing group understands it. Our patrons will need to be vaccinated, all the staff working the Australian Open need to be vaccinated.
‘When we’re in a state where there’s more than 90 percent of the population fully vaccinated, it’s the right thing to do.’
Likewise, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said last year he would not ‘facilitate’ unvaccinated tennis stars entering the country.
‘I’m not very well going to say to people that they can’t go to the pub tonight unless they’re double vaxxed, but certain high-profile people who choose not to be vaccinated… I’m not going to be facilitating them coming here,’ he said.
Djokovic is looking to defend his Australian Open title and win a record 21st Grand Slam trophy
Djokovic has not declared his coronavirus status but has been sceptical about the vaccine
Rafael Nadal has travelled to Australia despite testing positive for coronavirus last month
Djokovic will play in Melbourne but may have similar issues to qualify for other Grand Slams
When are medical exemptions given?
Australia’s Department of Health says medical exemptions are handed out if the individual has an ‘acute major medical condition’.
Under the guidelines, these conditions could include:
– Inflammatory cardiac illness in the last three months
– Undergoing major surgery or hospital admission for a serious illness
– A Covid-19 diagnosis that means vaccination cannot be made for six months
– Any serious effect to a Covid-19 vaccine in the past (Note: Djokovic has not confirmed whether or not he has been jabbed)
– If the vaccine is a risk to themselves or others during the vaccination process
– Underlying developmental or mental health disorders
Australia’s Deputy Premier James Merlino said last month that medical exemptions are ‘not a loophole’.
‘Medical exemptions are just that,’ he said. ‘It’s not a loophole for privileged tennis players.
‘They are medical exemptions in exceptional circumstances – if you have acute medical conditions.’
The Australian Open tournament begins on January 17 and the ATP has revealed that 95 out of the top 100 men’s players have been vaccinated.
In December, Tennis Australia unveiled its Covid-19 vaccination protocols for this year’s tournament, including the process for stars seeking medical exemptions.
If an exemption is considered valid, the medical exemption will be submitted to the Australian Immunisation Register and the identity of the player seeking an exemption will not be known.
However, Djokovic has waived his anonymity in this case.
Djokovic will be joined in the Melbourne tournament by Grand Slam title rival Rafael Nadal, who touched down in Australia recently and is level with the Serbian on 20 major tournament wins.
Nadal tested positive for coronavirus just before Christmas, putting his Australian Open participation in doubt, but travelled Down Under after the festive period and was seen preparing ahead of the tournament on Tuesday.
Roger Federer, who also has 20 Grand Slams to his name, will miss this year’s Australian Open tournament through injury.
Meanwhile, Djokovic may have similar issues in getting permission to play in other Grand Slam tournaments this season.
Last month, France announced that any unvaccinated players from other countries cannot compete in professional sport, raising doubts about whether he can compete at Roland Garros.
Whether the restrictions put in by president Emmanuel Macron last month will still be in place by the time the tournament starts in May 2022 is still unclear – but the rules are set to impact Chelsea’s Champions League trip to Lille and England’s Six Nations match in France, in February and March respectively.
Djokovic may also have some difficulties playing at Wimbledon if his vaccination status is not cleared up by the summer as currently, any unvaccinated person must quarantine for 10 days and take PCR tests on days two and eight.
The tennis player will also need a negative coronavirus test before travelling to England, under the current guidelines.