Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic may still be banned from entering the country to defend his Australian Open crown, despite being granted a medical exemption.
Calls are increasing for the tennis superstar to personally explain how he got approval to enter Australia to contest the Melbourne grand slam later this month without showing his vaccination status.
Djokovic, 34, is due to arrive in Melbourne on a flight from Serbia on Wednesday night. But Foreign Minister Karen Andrews has warned border authorities could step in.
‘Any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our strict border requirements,’ Ms Andrews said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
Calls are increasing for tennis superstar Novak Djokovic to personally explain why he was controversially granted a medical exemption to play at the Australian Open in Melbourne
‘While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border.
‘Since 15 December 2021 fully vaccinated eligible visa holders can travel to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption, and enter eligible states and territories quarantine free.
‘If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travellers.
‘Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our strict border requirements.
‘No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment.
‘Quarantine requirements for international arrivals in Victoria, including for non-vaccinated individuals, are a matter for the Victorian government.’
The grounds for Djokovic’s exemption under the ATAGI guidelines have remained private.
Djokovic, a nine-time champion has refused to reveal his vaccination status the past couple of years, declaring it a private matter – and has previously voiced his displeasure against ‘forced’ jabs.
Acting Minister for Sport and Major Events Jaala Pulford was quick to confirm on Wednesday the rules were not bent to accommodate Djokovic.
‘Whilst today’s news might be maddening to you, I want to assure you no one has received special treatment,’ she said.
Djokovic, a nine-time champion at Melbourne Park, has refused to reveal his vaccination status the past couple of years, declaring it a private matter – and has previously voiced his displeasure against ‘forced’ jabs
The Serbian world No 1 has packed his bags and will take part in the January 17 tournament – revealing the move to fans on social media (pictured)
‘This is not a process that exists for one person, there were 26 applicants with a handful of those getting the exemption. It is what it is.
‘Was I surprised Novak was one of those seeking an exemption? Probably not.
‘He has outspoken views about vaccination which aren’t in alignment with the views of the Victorian community. People have made very clear their views on vaccination in Australia.’
Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said it was up to Djokovic if he wished to discuss his condition with the public as well as why he received his exemption to play.
All players at the Australian Open, which begins on January 17, need to be vaccinated or secure an exemption like Djokovic which is assessed by an independent panel of experts.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on Wednesday demanded a ‘full and transparent explanation’ for the exemption.
‘I’m very concerned about this decision,’ he said.
‘It makes no sense to me, when Australians are making extraordinary sacrifices, to see an elite tennis player allowed to participate in the system.
‘And I don’t think it’ll make any sense to those healthcare workers who are working their guts out each and every day.’
Acting Victorian Premier Jacinta Allen said the Victorian Government ‘expected’ Djokovic to provide a public explanation about his entry into Australia.
‘It’s up to Novak Djokovic to explain to the Victorian and Australian community the privilege of coming here and playing in a really important event in our city, state and country and the motivations behind his actions.’ she said on Wednesday.
‘It’s the decent thing to do.’
Soon after news broke of Djokovic’s exemption being rubber stamped, rumours began swirling that the world number one had contracted Covid for a second time within the last six months and and a result wouldn’t qualify for the vaccine.
Tiley alluded to this being why the exemption may have been possibly granted for the Serbian star, who is chasing a record-breaking 21 grand slam titles.
If he hoists the trophy, he will surpass Swiss maestro Roger Federer and Spain’s Rafael Nadal as the best player in the sport’s history when it comes to career grand slam triumphs.
‘If they met the guidelines, they are allowed to come in,’ Tiley added.
World number one tennis star Novak Djokovic is on his way to play in the Australian Open – despite failing to reveal his vaccination status
In a brief post on Instagram, the 20-time grand slam winner and nine-time Australian Open champion revealed he was heading to Melbourne (pictured, the tennis star after winning the Open in 2021)
In October, Victorian premier Dan Andrews said Djokovic needed to be vaccinated to play at the Australian Open
‘There’s been no special favour. There’s been no special opportunity granted to Novak or there would be to any tennis player. In fact, there’s been a process that goes above and beyond the normal process for everyone.’
Earlier on Wednesday, Tiley confirmed a ‘handful’ of players had successfully applied for a medical exemption to play at Melbourne Park – but at this stage, the identity of the other athletes is not known.
Australian players James Duckworth and Alex de Minaur expressed surprise at the decision to grant Djokovic an exemption on medical grounds.
‘Look, I don’t know the criteria for exemptions. Yeah. Apparently it’s an independent panel. He must have fit the criteria somehow,’ Duckworth said.
‘That’s very politically correct of you,’ de Minaur added. ‘I just think it’s very interesting. That’s all I’m going to say.’
WHY IS DJOKOVIC EXEMPT?
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
Victoria’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.’