Public backlash against Novak Djokovic’s medical exemption to play in Australian Open
Australians have responded with anger and skepticism to the news that men’s tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic has been granted an exemption to compete in this year’s Australian Open in Melbourne.
There had been uncertainty over Djokovic’s participation after players were told they 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 vaccine mandate means he will defend his 2021 title in Melbourne. Djokovic, who is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slam singles titles, has not publicly revealed his vaccination status but voiced opposition to Covid-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates in April 2020.
“Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” he said in a Facebook live chat, according to Reuters. But in May of last year, Djokovic said vaccination was a matter of personal choice: “I will keep the decision as to whether I’m going to get vaccinated or not to myself. It’s an intimate decision, and I don’t want to go into this game of pro and against vaccines, which the media is unfortunately creating these days.”
Australian Open organizers said in a statement on Tuesday Djokovic’s exemption was “granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.” But the vaccine exemption has sparked backlash in Australia. Deputy Victorian Liberal Leader David Southwick called the decision to allow Djokovic to take part in this year’s tournament “a disgrace,” describing it as a “kick in the guts to every Victorian” who endured months of lockdowns and suffered personal setbacks during the pandemic.