Novak Djokovic will have the opportunity to defend his Australian Open title after gaining a medical exemption to go to Melbourne, putting an end to months of speculation regarding his participation due to the tournament’s strict COVID-19 vaccine rules.
On Tuesday, Djokovic, the world number one, posted on Instagram that he had “exemption authorization.”
Djokovic, who is vying for a record 21st Grand Slam singles championship, has been tight-lipped about whether he is coronavirus-vaccinated. Unless there is a legitimate basis for an exemption, the Victoria state government has demanded that all players, staff, and spectators attending the Australian Open be fully vaccinated.
The Australian Open’s administrators promptly reacted with a statement confirming Djokovic’s plans to play in the event, which begins on January 17. He’d already pulled out of Serbia’s team for the ATP Cup, which is being held in Sydney this week.
“After a thorough evaluation procedure including two different independent panels of medical experts, Djokovic was given a medical exemption,” the statement read. “One of them was the Victorian Department of Health’s Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel. All submissions were evaluated to see if they adhered to the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization’s criteria.”
Tennis Australia stated that the procedure involved the “redaction of personal information to preserve privacy for all candidates,” which includes the removal of facts such as names, ages, and nationalities. Djokovic was not required to make his exemption public as a result of this.
“Fair and impartial standards” were developed for examining medical exemption petitions, according to Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley, and Djokovic went through that “totally valid application and process.”
Tiley said on Wednesday that 26 players or support staff submitted anonymous medical exemption requests, but just a “handful” — around one in five — were approved. He said Djokovic was treated the same as everyone else.
Last month, Victoria state Deputy Premier James Merlino stressed that the medical exemptions would not be a “loophole for affluent tennis players,” and that they would only be granted in “rare circumstances” if a person had an emergency medical condition.
“No one is or will be given preferential treatment because of who they are or what they have done professionally,” Jaala Pulford, the state’s interim minister for sports, said on Wednesday.
“Lots of individuals in the Victorian community will be disappointed by this decision,” Pulford said, “but the process is the process.” “No one has been given preferential treatment.” “The procedure is really sturdy.”
The choice, according to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, is an issue for the government of Victoria, whose capital is Melbourne.
“They’ve given (Djokovic) an exemption to travel to Australia, and we’re going to operate in compliance with that,” Morrison said. “States have been providing exemptions for persons to enter on such grounds for the past two years.”
The issue is being hotly disputed in a city where, at the height of the epidemic, most residents were subjected to months of draconian lockdowns and severe travel restrictions.
Questions regarding the basis for Djokovic’s exemption rapidly arose on social media.
An immediate significant medical condition, a serious adverse response to a previous dose of COVID-19 vaccination, or proof of a COVID-19 infection within the preceding six months are all reasons for exemptions.
“The only way we could obtain such information is if an individual chose to provide it,” Tiley said, adding that he was unaware of the basis for Djokovic’s exemption.
However, he stated that if Djokovic wants to explain himself, it would be “useful.”
Tiley stated, “I would encourage him to communicate to the community about it.” “Over the previous two years, we’ve gone through a really trying time and would welcome some answers.”
All international players were required to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine before to the Australian Open last year, delaying the year’s first major from its regular mid-January start. As the number of coronavirus cases increased, there were also tight crowd limits and days when spectators were not permitted into Melbourne Park.
The 2022 tournament has no attendance restriction and no stringent hotel quarantine for players, however confirmation of double vaccination for COVID-19 is required for admittance and players will be tested on a regular basis.
Visitors visiting Australia who have medical exemptions for the vaccine are treated the same as fully vaccinated persons, thus Djokovic will bypass hotel quarantine upon arrival.
The Australian Open is where Djokovic, 34, has won nine of his 20 major titles. With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, he holds the men’s record for most majors.
Since the Davis Cup Finals in early December, Djokovic hasn’t competed on the circuit. A snapshot of Djokovic leaning on a tennis suitcase at an airport accompanied his social media tweets announcing his plans to fly to Australia.