Adelaide, Australia (CNN) – Australians responded with anger and skepticism to the news that men’s tennis No.1 Novak Djokovic received an exemption to compete at this year’s Australian Open in Melbourne.
There was uncertainty about Djokovic’s participation after it was said that the players would have to be fully vaccinated in order to participate or have a medical exemption granted by an independent panel of experts. The exemption from the vaccination mandate means that he will defend his 2021 title in Melbourne.
Novak Djokovic, who is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in 20 individual Grand Slam titles, did not publicly disclose his vaccination status, but voiced his opposition to covid-19 vaccines and vaccination mandates in April 2020.
“Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I would not want someone to force me to get vaccinated in order to travel,” he said in a Facebook live chat, according to Reuters.
But in May of last year, Djokovic said that vaccination was a matter of personal choice: “I will keep to myself the decision to vaccinate or not. It is an intimate decision, and I do not want to enter this game of those who are in favor and against vaccines, which the media are unfortunately creating these days. “
Organizers of the Australian Open said in a statement Tuesday that Djokovic’s exemption was “granted after a rigorous review process involving two independent panels of medical experts.”
But the vaccine exemption sparked reactions in Australia.
Victoria Liberal Party Vice Chairman David Southwick called the decision to allow Novak Djokovic to participate in this year’s tournament as “a disgrace”, describing it as a “kick in the guts to all Victorians” who endured months of confinement. and suffered personal setbacks during the pandemic.
Call for a boycott of Australia
One of the most famous former stars of the Melbourne Australian Football League (AFL), Kevin Bartlett, tweeted that Australians had been “taken for fools”. While one of the city’s prominent emergency physicians and former president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Stephen Parnis, said the decision sent “a dire message” to the public.
In Melbourne, one of the world’s most closed cities in 2021, tennis fans took to social media to call for a “boycott” of the Australian Open.
Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley defended the fairness of the medical exemption review process on Wednesday, telling reporters during a press conference that “no one knew who the applicant was.”
“There were 26 applicants throughout the process, there are a handful who were granted a waiver and that information is only released by those individuals who were granted a waiver,” Tiley said.
“The process has been very clear and we understand and understand, first of all, that some people are upset that Novak has come in because of his statements in the past about vaccination,” he said.
“Ultimately, however, it is he who must discuss with the public his condition if he decides to do so and why he received his exemption.”
Acting Victorian Sports Minister Jaala Pulford told reporters that “no one has had special treatment.”
“The process is incredibly robust. It is de-identified and we are where we are, so tennis can begin,” he said, according to Reuters.
Novak Djokovic’s exemption comes two weeks after Russian tennis player Nata Vikhlyantseva revealed that she will not be able to travel to the tournament because her vaccine is not recognized by local health authorities.
Sputnik V is not on the list of vaccines currently approved by the Australian government, so Vikhlyantseva, world number 195, will not be able to play.
Under current Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI) guidelines, a medical exemption is granted to people who have an “acute major medical condition, for example undergoing major surgery or a hospital admission for a serious illness “.
The other reasons for medical exemption refer to people who have suffered a “serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, without any other cause being identified” and to a vaccinated person who “poses a risk to himself. or to others during the vaccination process “due to an” underlying developmental or mental health disorder. “
Finally, exemptions can be granted to anyone with a “PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, where vaccination can be deferred to six months,” and where people have received ” anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibody therapy or convalescent plasma “.
In June 2020, Djokovic tested positive for coronavirus after an exhibition event he organized in Croatia, but since then there has been no report that he has been reinfected with the virus.
The backlash against the exemption comes after Melbourne residents spent more than 260 days confined to their homes, with a ban on going outside except to buy food or other essentials, mostly in two long stretches from July to October 2020. and from August to October 2021.
Australia started the year 2022 with a record number of new COVID-19 cases due to a growing outbreak centered in the eastern states.
Both New South Wales, the most populous state, and Victoria (where Melbourne is located) posted record numbers of daily cases on Saturday, health department figures showed.
Many commented on social media that thousands of Australians had been stranded abroad, unable to return to their home country even to visit sick or dying relatives, due to Australia’s strict border controls and arrival quotas.
On Tuesday, Novak Djokovic posted a photo of himself at an airport with a caption saying he was “heading Down Under.”
“Happy New Year everyone! Wishing you health, love and happiness in every present moment and that you feel love and respect for all beings on this wonderful planet,” he wrote on Instagram.
“I have had fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the holidays and today I am going Down Under on a waiver permit. Let’s go 2022.”
The Australian Open is the first Grand Slam of the year and will be held from January 17-30.
CNN’s Ben Church contributed a report. Additional information from Reuters.