Novak Djokovic is given the chance to defend his Australian Open title after receiving a medical exemption to travel to Melbourne, ending months of uncertainty about his participation due to the tournament’s strict COVID-19 vaccination regulations.
The highest ranking Djokovic wrote on Instagram on Tuesday that he had “a special permit”.
Djokovic, who had a record-21. Aiming for Grand Slam individual titles, has consistently refused to reveal whether he has been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The Victoria state government has mandated that all players, staff and fans participating in the Australian Open must be fully vaccinated unless there is a real reason an exemption should be granted.
Australian Open organizers issued a statement later Tuesday to confirm that Djokovic will be allowed to enter the tournament, which begins January 17 and is on its way to Australia. He had previously withdrawn from the Serbian team for the ATP Cup, which began in Sydney last weekend.
“Djokovic applied for a medical exemption, which was granted after a rigorous review process with two separate independent medical expert panels,” the statement said. “One of them was the independent medical exemption review body appointed by the Victorian Department of Health. They checked all of the applications to see if they met guidelines from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization. “
According to Tennis Australia, the process involved editing personal information to ensure the privacy of all applicants. That means Djokovic was under no obligation to make his release public.
Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley said, “Fair and independent protocols have been established for evaluating medical exemption applications that will enable us to ensure that the 2022 Australian Open is safe and enjoyable for everyone.”
“At the heart of this process was that decisions were made by independent medical experts and that each applicant was given due consideration,” said Tiley.
Victoria State Deputy Prime Minister James Merlino said last month the medical exemptions are “no loophole for privileged tennis players”.
“It is a medical exception in exceptional circumstances when you have an acute illness,” Merlino said at a press conference.
The decision, announced on Tuesday, will be widely debated in a city that suffered severe lockdowns and travel restrictions for months at the height of the pandemic.
The response on social media quickly turned to questions about the reasons for Djokovic’s exception and the quarantine conditions he must meet upon arrival in Australia.
Last year, all foreign players had to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine before the Australian Open, which pushed the first major of the year back from its usual start in mid-January. There were also strict caps on the number of spectators and days fans were not allowed to enter Melbourne Park as coronavirus cases rose.
The 34-year-old Djokovic has won nine of his 20 major titles at the Australian Open. He shares the men’s record for most majors with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic has not played at tour level since the Davis Cup final in early December and recently trained in Spain. His social media posts announcing his plans to travel to Australia were accompanied by a photo of Djokovic leaning against a tennis bag at an airport.
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