The Serbian athlete, who is considered one of the best tennis players in the sport’s history, was granted a medical exemption to play at the Australian Open, which was later overturned by the country’s federal government, which also cancelled his visa on arrival. Australia allows only vaccinated people to enter the country, with few exemptions.
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley has spoken for the first time on the scandal over Novak Djokovic’s vaccination status as tensions grow between Canberra and Belgrade. Tiley defended the organisation’s actions amid widespread criticism, saying staff had acted professionally and done a thorough job.
“There’s a lot of finger pointing going on and a lot of blaming going on, but I can assure you our team has done an unbelievable job and have done everything they possibly could according to all the instructions that they have been provided”, he said.
Tiley said that Tennis Australia “empathises” with the ongoing situation and is “working closely” with Novak Djokovic and his team.
Prior to the statement, the organisation had avoided commenting on the issue, which has triggered a diplomatic scandal between Australia and Serbia.
The ongoing scandal is over the coronavirus-related medical exemption Djokovic received that allowed him to participate in the upcoming Australian Open, one of the four prestigious Grand Slam tennis tournaments.
According to the current rules in Australia, an unvaccinated person can only enter the country if they have a medical excuse for not getting a jab. The conditions include:
inflammatory cardiac illness;
undergoing a surgery or hospital admission for a serious illness;
underlying mental disorders;
any serious effect to vaccine;
Djokovic, who has refused to reveal his COVID-19 vaccination status, has previously voiced opposition to coronavirus jabs. Back in 2020, he said he wanted to have the option “to choose what’s best” for his body.
His wife shared a video that blamed the disease on the 5G network, a popular conspiracy theory. The couple said that they are not anti-vaxxers. The athlete later said that he “wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine” in order to travel and compete in tournaments.
Djokovic, who is a 20-time Grand Slam winner and the longest-running number one in men’s tennis, received a medical exemption to participate in the Australian Open. It was given by two independent medical panels organised by Tennis Australia, which is hosting the tournament, and Victoria state, where the event is held.
However, the exemption was overturned by the federal government after the athlete arrived in Australia. His visa was cancelled, while the athlete himself was sent to an immigration detention hotel intended for refugees.
The move has angered Serbian authorities, who have accused Canberra of luring the athlete into the country “to be humiliated”. Djokovic’s father said his son is a “prisoner of these idiots”, while President Aleksandar Vucic called the tennis player a victim of “harassment”.
Australian authorities have rejected the accusations and said Djokovic is free to leave the country whenever he wants. Prime Minister Scott Morrison emphasised that the coronavirus rules apply to everyone.
“I am aware of representations that have been made by the embassy here in Canberra and I understand those, but my simple point is that all countries have their border rules and these rules are not imposed against any one country or any one individual. There is no suggestion of any particular position in relation to Serbia. In fact, Serbia has been a good friend of Australia and provided very strong support, particularly on security issues globally, and we greatly appreciate that. This is a very specific case that deals with one individual and Australia’s sovereign border laws and their fair application”, PM Morrison said.
Did Tennis Australia Mislead Players?
Earlier this week, Australian media reported that the boss of Tennis Australia, Craig Tiley, had been engaged in a conversation with members of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) on whether players who had recently been infected with COVID-19 or had received the first dose of a jab could enter Australia.
“The treatment of players who fall within one of these categories goes to the heart of the viability of the Australian Open”, Tiley wrote to the ATAGI.
Reports say that Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt told Mr Tiley that no such exemptions would be given, but the Tennis Australia boss did not pass this information on.
Djokovic is not the only athlete who has faced problems. Earlier it was reported that Czech female player Renata Voracova had her medical exemption overturned. Australian authorities also cancelled her visa despite allowing the athlete into the country. Ms Voracova suggested that Tennis Australia had misled athletes, a claim the organisation has denied.
“Apparently the Australian Tennis Association has misled us, which is annoying. I wanted to focus on tennis, not visas, quarantine. It’s really weird that I spent a week here, played a match … And then they came for me”, Renata Voracova said.
Novak Djokovic has filed a lawsuit against Australian authorities, with the verdict expected next week. The athlete may become the most acclaimed male tennis athlete if he wins the tournament.