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World’s No. 1-Ranked Tennis Player Novak Djokovic Refused Entry Into Australia Over Vaccine Exemption

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Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player, travelled all day on Wednesday (Jan 5) from Dubai to Australia, a journey that was supposed to begin his defence of the Australian Open singles championship. On Thursday, he was told he would need to leave the country, following a 12-hour stand-off with government officials at a Melbourne Airport, where he was held in a room overnight over questions about the evidence supporting a medical exemption from a coronavirus vaccine.

Federal health authorities told Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley on two occasions in writing that people who were not vaccinated and had contracted COVID-19 in the past six months would not be granted quarantine-free travel to Australia.

The exemption was supposed to allow Djokovic, a 20-time Grand Slam champion and one of the biggest stars in sports, to compete in the Australian Open even though he has not been vaccinated.

It was not immediately clear whether Djokovic would appeal the ruling in Australia’s courts. A spokesperson for the tennis star did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The chain of events represented a startling turnabout for Djokovic, who in a little more than 24 hours went from receiving special, last-minute permission to enter Australia, to boarding an intercontinental flight, to essentially being told by the prime minister of Australia that he was not welcome in the country.

At one-point, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic even got involved, speaking with Djokovic and criticising the Australian government for its treatment of the country’s biggest sports star.

The pandemic has wreaked all manner of havoc with sports during the past two years. The Tokyo Summer Olympics were postponed for a year. Major events took place in empty stadiums. Star players have been sent into isolation just before their competitions after testing positive for the virus.

Novak Djokovic

The situation involving Djokovic, one of the most polarising figures in the sport, was a match for any of them. It turned on a confrontation between a sports superstar and the most powerful leader in one of the world’s most prosperous countries, where government officials, citizens, the media and even some fellow players, criticised the exemption, seemingly prompting the sudden shift.

The decision promises to become another flashpoint in the debate about vaccines and how the pandemic should be managed now, especially in Australia, where egalitarianism is considered a sacred principle – and where “the tennis,” as the Open is called, is also beloved by what often seems like an entire nation of sports fanatics.

In a statement on Thursday, the Australian Border Force pledged to “continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements. The ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled.”

For Djokovic, it was the latest and arguably the most wrenching controversy in a career that has been filled with them, nearly all which have been brought on by the behaviour of a champion who can be as wilful and unbending off the court as he is on it.

Djokovic has never been shy about expressing his non-traditional views of science and medicine (he once voiced support for the idea that prayer and belief could purify toxic water), and he has stated on multiple occasions his opposition to vaccine mandates, saying vaccination is a private and personal decision that should not be mandated. However, he had not revealed until this week whether he had been vaccinated.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday revealed Border Force on Wednesday night attempted to contact the Victorian government to see if it was prepared to quarantine Djokovic.

“That was the issue being discussed with Victoria – about quarantine. I am unaware of the Victorian government position on whether they were prepared to allow him to not have to quarantine or not. I don’t know,” Mr Morrison said.

Mr Morrison said Australia “has sovereign borders and clear rules that are non-discriminatory”, saying the country was not singling out Djokovic to make a point.

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