News   |    January 6th, 2022


Having won 20 grand slams and holding the record for being the number 1 tennis player for 354 consecutive weeks, Novak Djokovic is certainly a household name. The 34-year-old isn’t necessarily everyone’s favourite tennis professional. That in part is due to Federer and Nadal having stolen the hearts of many tennis fanatics over the years and the recent controversy surrounding his participation in the Australian Open is not helping his image. He has yet to confirm if he has been vaccinated against Covid or not which is ominous.

After 2 years of suffering, Covid-19 is becoming an increasingly mundane and disheartening topic of conversation. Importantly, it continues to throw obstacles in our way. With the Australian Open fast approaching, it is no surprise the best athletes in the world want to compete at a major grand slam event and the Serbian is no exception. I stress exception, as Novak said in April that “personally I am opposed to vaccination, and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel” and yet he has recently been granted a medical exemption to be able to compete by Tennis Australia and Victoria State.

Australia has strict rules concerning Covid-19, with around 90% of 16 and overs already vaccinated. All players and staff at the tournament must be vaccinated or have an exemption granted by an expert independent panel. According to the Victoria State Government, applications for medical exemptions are being assessed anonymously by two separate panels, with inflammatory cardiac illness or another acute condition listed as valid reasons. Further, the Tournament’s Chief Executive noted that 26 athletes applied for exemption and only a handful were granted access.

Interestingly, Djokovic has not revealed either his vaccination status, or what his reason for exemption is. This ambiguity is causing negatively amongst tennis fans but also A and E doctor Stephen Parnis, who tweeted: “I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he’s refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn’t be allowed in.” There is unquestionably a collective feeling of ‘one rule for one, one rule for another’, and with Australian locals having previously stated the rich and famous can come and go as they please, it seems their accusations could be said to be justified.

Reverting to the testing process, if like they suggest, the trials are done anonymously then status and money shouldn’t be a factor. My query is, once the tests are completed, then why doesn’t each athlete reveal their reason for exemption? Quite rightly, Rod Laver, a former Australian tennis player mentioned “Yes, you’re a great player and you’ve performed and won so many tournaments, so it can’t be physical,” he said. “So, what is the problem?”.

Looking at the bigger picture, I am sure there are other professionals in other sports that have been granted vaccine exemption. As Djokovic is such a famous and influential individual within tennis, he is undeniably going to receive a larger, more profound backlash. Of course, we want to see the best athletes competing against each other, tennis is an exciting spectator sport. However, if we have incidences of exemptions for the ‘money-maker’ players, doesn’t this just undermine the Covid-19 pandemic and the rules associated with it.

Further to the controversy, in an interesting U turn to the situation, Djokovic is now being held at the Australian border as the authorities have denied him entry through complications with his Visa. Border officials announced he had “failed to provide appropriate evidence” for entry and would be deported, ultimately meaning he has not provided a legitimate reason for exemption. Therefore, the Serbian is now being held at the border, ready to be deported on Monday. In the meantime, his lawyers are drastically appealing the new development in the hope that Djokovic can defend his title in the tournament – in whom have already accepted his vaccine exemption.

As the whole world casts their eye on the Australian Open officials and Border control, let’s just hope they don’t make a mistake, and put the interests of the tournament ahead of the interests to society and governmental regulations.

Image – Getty Images

Alfie Bobbins - Integral Sports Management.

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