Australians have expressed their anger over news related to the participation of Serbian tennis player, Novak Djokovic, in the Australian Open, under a medical exemption from measures to obtain the Corona vaccine.
All players and staff in the tournament are required to have the vaccine as a condition of participation, or to obtain an exemption granted by an independent panel of experts.
Tournament organizers said the champion, who is seeking to defend his title, was not given special treatment.
However, Australians, some of whom still cannot travel between states internally, or outside the country, have criticized officials, politicians and Djokovic himself.
Australian Open chief Craig Tilley said 26 players had applied for medical waivers and a “group” was granted the exemption under guidelines set by federal regulators.
“We’ve made it more difficult for anyone applying for an exemption in order to make sure the procedure is safe and to make sure that medical experts are handling the matter independently,” Tilley told Channel 9 on Wednesday.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a news conference on Tuesday that the Victorian state government had “granted him (the player) an exemption to come to Australia, and we are therefore acting in accordance with this decision”.
However, Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has indicated that the federal government may have a say in Djokovic’s entry into Australia.
“While the Victorian State Government and the Australian Tennis Association may allow an unvaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth Government that will enforce the necessary conditions at the Australian border,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.
She said that everyone who arrives in the country and has not received a vaccine “must provide acceptable evidence” on a medical basis justifying the reason for the exemption in order to enter Australia in order to avoid being subject to quarantine.
“No one competing in the Australian Open will be given special treatment,” the statement said.
The tournament kicks off in Melbourne on January 17, and Djokovic said on Instagram on Tuesday: “I had a nice time with my loved ones during the break, and today I am traveling to Australia with exemption.”
“Let’s start 2022,” he added. “I’m ready to live and breathe tennis for the next few weeks of competition.”
The player did not talk about his position on obtaining the vaccine, but he had publicly stated last April, saying: “I personally oppose vaccination and I do not want anyone to force me to take a vaccine so that I can travel.”
The decision is highly controversial in a country where tens of thousands of people were infected with Covid for the first time after enduring some of the most stringent restrictions in the world.
Many have previously accused the government of allowing the rich and famous to do whatever they like, while ordinary citizens remain isolated from sick and dying loved ones.
On Tuesday, Dr. Stephen Barnes wrote on Twitter: “I don’t care about his tennis talent. If he refuses to vaccinate, he shouldn’t be allowed into the country.”
He added: “If this exemption is true, it sends a terrible message to the millions who seek to stave off the dangers of Covid to themselves and others. Vaccination shows respect, Novak.”
“I think it’s very exciting, that’s all I will say,” Australian player Alex de Minaur told a news conference.
Britain’s Jamie Murray added: “I think if I was the one who didn’t get the vaccine, I wouldn’t get an exemption. You know, but it’s good that he got permission to come to Australia and compete.”
The process of evaluating requests for medical exemption is subject to a decision by two separate teams, without specifying the identity of the person, but it is also possible that Djokovic has recently tested positive for the virus, allowing him to postpone receiving the vaccine.
Gala Bolford, acting sports minister in the Victorian state, admitted the decision was “disappointing and disturbing” but also denied that Djokovic had received special treatment.
She and Telly urged Djokovic to make more information available to the public.
“It would certainly be helpful if Novak explained the circumstances in which he sought medical relief, which is ultimately up to him,” Tilley said.