‘A kick in the guts’: Outrage after Novak Djokovic granted exemption to appear at Australian Open

‘A kick in the guts’: Outrage after Novak Djokovic granted exemption to appear at Australian Open

The decision to allow Novak Djokovic to participate in the upcoming Australian Open with an exemption for Covid-19 vaccination requirements has sparked outrage.

Last month, Australian Open tournament director and Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley had said that all players wishing to participate in the tournament in Melbourne must have proof of single or double vaccination or provide proof of medical exemption.

There was speculation around the world number 1 joining the tournament after he withdrew from the ATP cup in Sydney last week.

On Tuesday, Djokovic, 34, ended speculation over his participation with a post on his social media, where he stated that he would be traveling to Australia with a Covid-19 vaccination exemption.

The post said, “I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!”

The post sparked widespread outrage against the Australian Open authorities as well as the Victoria administration for allowing the exemption.

Stephen Parnis, former vice president of the Australian Medical Association said in a tweet: “I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he’s refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn’t be allowed in.”

“If this exemption is true, it sends an appalling message to millions seeking to reduce #COVID19Aus risk to themselves & others. #Vaccination shows respect, Novak.”

Former Football player Kevin Bartlett tweeted: “Novak Djokovic is the greatest tennis player ever. Forget Laver, Agassi ,Federer, Sampras, Nadal, McEnroe, Connors and Borg for Novak has won 20 Grand Slams and 87 titles and a billion dollars without us knowing he had a debilitating medical problem.”

“We have been taken for fools.”

The move also sparked political backlash.

Victorian deputy liberal leader David Southwick tweeted: “We have had 6 lockdowns - schools and small businesses closed, funerals and weddings told not to go ahead, families separated for months on end and now a tennis star gets an exemption.”

“A kick in the guts to every Victorian.”

Tournament authorities however said that his exemption had been granted to Djokovic, who has not disclosed his vaccination status, after a “rigorous review process” involving two separate panels of independent medical experts.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Tiley put the onus on Djokovic to explain the reasons of his exemption.

“Some of you will be upset about the fact that Novak has come in because of his statements of the past couple of years around vaccination,” Mr Tiley said.

“However, it’s ultimately up to him to discuss with the public his condition if you choose to do that, and the reason why he received an exemption. We as an event, also as a state, as a country, will do everything we possibly can to give everyone an equal opportunity to come into the country.”

Victoria’s employment minister Jaala Pulford also denied that the government has given special treatment to the player while thousands of Victoria residents spent Christmas in isolation in keeping with the guidelines to curb the spread of Omicron.

“I wanted to recognise and acknowledge that this outcome is something that many of the Victorian community find frustrating and upsetting,” Ms Pulford was quoted as saying in The Guardian.

“But I want to make absolutely clear that as has been the case the whole time, no one is receiving special treatment because of who they are or what they have achieved professionally.”

In 2020 Djokovic tested positive for Covid-19 amid a string of controversial moments during lockdown.

Subsequently in 2021 he won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon titles but was defeated in the finals of the Olympic Games and the US Open.