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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

As Djokovic drama plays out, it’s unclear if unvaccinated players will be allowed at Australian Open

In June 2020, Djokovic tested positive for the coronavirus after hosting a tournament in Serbia and other Balkan nations, after which other players and coaches were also found to be infected.

By: New York Times |
Updated: October 26, 2021 8:56:20 am
Novak DjokovicNovak Djokovic, the reigning champion and a nine-time winner of the Australian Open, expressed uncertainty last week over whether he would attend the tournament. (AP)

By Yan Zhuang

With less than three months to go before the 2022 Australian Open, confusion remains as to whether unvaccinated players will be able to participate in the marquee event.

Novak Djokovic, the reigning champion and a nine-time winner of the Australian Open, expressed uncertainty last week over whether he would attend the tournament if he were required to prove his vaccination status. His comments set off a flurry of speculation and contradictory remarks by government ministers and tennis officials.

“Things beings as they are, I still don’t know if I will go to Melbourne,” Djokovic, who is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most men’s Grand Slam singles titles in a career, told Blic Sport. “I will not reveal my status whether I have been vaccinated or not. It is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry.”

In June 2020, Djokovic tested positive for the coronavirus after hosting a tournament in Serbia and other Balkan nations, after which other players and coaches were also found to be infected.

In response to Djokovic’s comments, Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, said last week that unvaccinated players “will have to be double vaccinated to visit Australia.”

“That’s a universal application, not just to tennis players,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio Wednesday.

Confusion remains, however. While organizers of this year’s tournament are hoping all players can participate, they have not yet released any formal vaccination or quarantine guidelines for the athletes. And neither Australia’s federal government nor the government of Victoria, the state in which the tournament is held, has made a formal announcement about how or when international tennis players will be able to enter the country and what they can or can’t do once they’re allowed in.

When asked for clarification by The New York Times, the Australian federal government suggested via email that any rulings regarding the players’ participation in the tournament fell under the jurisdiction of the state government: “Participants at the Australian Open may be subject to varying quarantine arrangements, depending on their vaccination status, or declared status in accordance with State and Territory requirements.”

Noncitizens are broadly barred from visiting Australia, but they can be granted entry if they agree to quarantine for two weeks, which is how players participated in the 2021 Australian Open in February.

That tournament drew backlash from citizens for seeming to prioritize admitting international tennis players over the many Australians who were stranded overseas because of travel restrictions.

In a leaked email, the Women’s Tennis Association directly contradicted Hawke’s comments, insisting that unvaccinated players would be able to attend the tournament if they quarantined for two weeks.

But the Victorian government rebutted this claim Monday afternoon, with the sports minister, Martin Pakula, telling 3AW radio that the matter would not be settled for “another couple of weeks.”

Tennis Australia, the organizer of the tournament, said in a statement Monday that it was “working with the Victorian and Federal Governments on the conditions for players at Australian Open 2022 and look forward to having the details confirmed soon.”

“We are optimistic that we can hold the Australian Open as close to pre-pandemic conditions as possible,” the statement said.

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