BREAKING NEWS: Novak Djokovic WILL play at the Australian Open

Anti-vax world No 1 Novak Djokovic flies out to the Australian Open and WILL play, despite Covid rules barring unjabbed players, as he sparks anger by using a medical exemption loophole

  • World No 1 Novak Djokovic will play in the Covid-impacted Australian Open
  • It is a legal requirement in Victoria, Australia to be jabbed in order to work
  • Medical exemptions are allowed, but only for an ‘acute major medical condition’
  • Djokovic has refused to say whether he is vaccinated for coronavirus
  • The Serbian has revealed he has a medical exemption in order to play this year
  • The tennis star posted an image of him travelling to the tournament on Tuesday 

Novak Djokovic has finally ended the waiting game and announced that he is heading to Melbourne to defend his Australian Open title.

The nine-times champion posted a picture of himself at an airport on Tuesday morning declaring that he has gained a medical exemption from being vaccinated against Covid and will make the long journey south.

He has recently been pictured in Marbella practising, despite pulling out of this week’s ATP Cup competition in Sydney.

‘I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022 !! ‘ he said on Instagram.

Australian Open organisers say the medical exemption was granted through a ‘rigorous review process’ that went via the country’s Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) guidelines.

Novak Djokovic will play in this year’s Australian Open after getting a medical exemption (Pictured: The tennis star heading to Melbourne to compete in the tournament)

The Serbian world No 1 has packed his bags and will take part in the January 17 tournament

Australia’s Department of Health says medical exemptions are handed out if the individual has an ‘acute major medical condition’.

Under the guidelines, these conditions could include: 

– Inflammatory cardiac illness in the last three months 

– Undergoing major surgery or hospital admission for a serious illness 

– A Covid-19 diagnosis that means vaccination cannot be made for six months

– Any serious effect to a Covid-19 vaccine in the past (Note: Djokovic has not confirmed whether or not he has been jabbed)

– If the vaccine is a risk to themselves or others during the vaccination process 

– Underlying developmental or mental health disorders 

Australia’s Deputy Premier James Merlino said last month that medical exemptions are ‘not a loophole’. 

‘Medical exemptions are just that,’ he said. ‘It’s not a loophole for privileged tennis players. 

‘They are medical exemptions in exceptional circumstances – if you have acute medical conditions.’

The process for getting an exemption is run independently of Tennis Australia and involves two separate medical panels from government health authorities. The guidelines for getting an exemption require an ‘acute major medical condition’ in the individual.  

The government health authorities are also said to look at applications without knowing who has submitted them. 

Djokovic is well-known for his freedom of choice views on the vaccine and has previously expressed his scepticism.

There are known to be a small number of other players who have successfully applied for permissions who are already in Australia, but he is naturally the main focus of what is already proving to be a contentious issue.

What reception awaits him is unsure, both among the public and his fellow players. Melbourne has been the most locked down city in the world, and is currently seeing skyrocketing cases of the Omicron variant.

After an initially slow take-up around 85-90% of tennis players are now vaccinated. Not all of them may be delighted at the prospect of sharing a locker room with someone who has declined to do the same thing.

The Australian Open tournament begins on January 17 and the ATP has revealed that 95 out of the top 100 men’s players have been vaccinated.  

In December, Tennis Australia unveiled its Covid-19 vaccination protocols for this year’s tournament, including the process for stars seeking medical exemptions.

If an exemption is considered valid, the medical exemption will be submitted to the Australian Immunisation Register and the identity of the player seeking an exemption will not be known. However, Djokovic has waived his anonymity in this case. 

Djokovic will be joined in the Melbourne tournament by Grand Slam title rival Rafael Nadal, who touched down in Australia recently and is level with the Serbian on 20 major tournament wins. 

Nadal tested positive for coronavirus just before Christmas, putting his Australian Open participation in doubt, but travelled Down Under after the festive period and was seen preparing ahead of the tournament on Tuesday. 

Djokovic is looking to defend his Australian Open title and win a record 21st Grand Slam trophy

Djokovic has not declared his coronavirus status but has been sceptical about the vaccine

Rafael Nadal has travelled to Australia despite testing positive for coronavirus last month

Roger Federer, who also has 20 Grand Slams to his name, will miss this year’s Australian Open tournament through injury.  

Meanwhile, Djokovic may have similar issues in getting permission to play in other Grand Slam tournaments this season. Last month, France announced that any unvaccinated players from other countries cannot compete in professional sport, raising doubts about whether he can compete at Roland Garros. 

Whether the restrictions put in by president Emmanuel Macron last month will still be in place by the time the tournament starts in May 2022, is still unclear – but the rules are set to impact Chelsea’s Champions League trip to Lille and the England’s Six Nations match in France in February and March respectively. 

Djokovic will play in Melbourne but may have similar issues to qualify for other Grand Slams

Djokovic may also have some difficulties playing at Wimbledon if his vaccination status is not cleared up by the summer. Currently, any unvaccinated person must quarantine for 10 days and take PCR tests on days 2 and 8. 

The Serbian will also need a negative coronavirus test before travelling to England, under the current guidelines. 

Residents in Australia raged on social at the medical exemption granted to Djokovic, with some of them considering a boycott from the tournament. 

One fan tweeted: ‘Not happy about this. Considering boycotting our attendance.’

Furious Australians say they could boycott this year’s tournament due to Djokovic’s exemption

Another posted: ‘As a local I’ve had to get vaccinated to continue my job, go to cafés, return to normal. Every worker and ticket holder at will be vaccinated. Why should @Djokernole be exempt?’

One fan claimed: ‘For what it’s worth, if Djokovic plays in the AO i will boycott the whole tournament. For me that means not watching a single minute of TV coverage. But that’s the protest I can do so that is what I’ll do.’

Meanwhile, another supporter claimed: ‘This best be a joke. I didn’t go through lockdown to put up with this.’ 

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