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late call Anger erupts as Novak Djokovic is granted 'medical exemption' to play Australian Open

Defending champion Djokovic has refused time and again over the last year whether he has been vaccinated against Covid-19.

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Serbia's Novak Djokovic kisses the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after defeating Russia's Daniil Medvedev in the 2020 men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne. (Photo: AP Photo/Mark Dadswell)

Serbia's Novak Djokovic kisses the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after defeating Russia's Daniil Medvedev in the 2020 men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne. (Photo: AP Photo/Mark Dadswell)

Serbia's Novak Djokovic kisses the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after defeating Russia's Daniil Medvedev in the 2020 men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne. (Photo: AP Photo/Mark Dadswell)

After months of speculation, an unvaccinated Novak Djokovic has been granted a 'medical exemption' to play at this month's Australian Open, in a decision that is certain to spark huge anger and debate.

Defending champion Djokovic has refused time and again over the last year whether he has been vaccinated against Covid-19, a requirement to play in the first Grand Slam of 2022.

The world number one pulled out of the Serbia team competing at the ATP Cup in Sydney without explanation, adding to speculation that the nine-time champion and reported vaccine sceptic would not play in the season’s first grand slam.

However, Australian Open chief Craig Tiley revealed this week that some unvaccinated players have been granted exemptions to play, and it seems Djokovic is among them.

That decision is certain to spark a huge outcry in Australia, where travel restrictions have been so tight throughout the pandemic and special permission to travel has rarely been granted to foreigners.

There was a predictably angry response to the news on social media channels after Djokovic confirmed he was on his way to Australia, with those who have been unable to travel to the country to attend the funeral of loved ones in recent months among those voicing their annoyance.

Tennis Australia are also facing a backlash following the decision and they have attempted to quell the storm by issuing a statement revealing why their decision to grant Djokovic an exemption has been made following what they described as "a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts".

"Fair and independent protocols were established for assessing medical exemption applications that will enable us to ensure Australian Open 2022 is safe and enjoyable for everyone," said Tiley in a statement on Tuesday.

"Central to this process was that the decisions were made by independent medical experts and that every applicant was given due consideration."

Djokovic could end the debate over why he needed an exception when he faces the media in Australia, but the world No.1 has avoided all such questions for several months now and it seems unlikely he will end the storm he is about to walk into.

What happens next is anyone's guess, but Djokovic has played a big role in ensuring his vaccine status has become a story that has gone well beyond tennis and his famously thick skin will now be tested like never before as he attempts to win his 21st Grand Slam title later this month.

Whether he likes it or not - and the debate over that topic is very much open to question - Djokovic will now be adopted as the hero of the vocal anti-vaxxer movement, but that status may not be his only concern.

He may also face a hostile reception from a normally adoring Australian public when he takes to court for a tournament that gets underway on January 17th.

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