Defending Australian Open champ Djokovic heading Down Under with 'exemption permission'

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Defending Australian Open champ Djokovic heading Down Under with 'exemption permission'

Novak Djokovic will play the 2022 Australian Open after all. After months of speculation around his vaccination status—he is a well-known "anti-vaxxer"—which in turn put in doubt his participation for this season’s opening Grand Slam in Melbourne, the world No 1 confirmed in a social media post on Tuesday that he is heading Down Under with an “exemption permission”.

With less than two weeks to go for the start of the Australian Open on January 17, where being fully vaccinated is mandatory, the clock was ticking for the Serb. The odds on him landing in Australia to vie for a record 21st Grand Slam title appeared to diminish further after he pulled out of Serbia’s squad for the ongoing ATP Cup in Sydney.

However, Tennis Australia said in a statement that Djokovic had applied for a medical exemption, which was granted.

Happy New Year! Wishing you all health, love & joy in every moment & may you feel love & respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet.I?ve spent fantastic quality time with loved ones over break & today I?m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let?s go 2022! pic.twitter.com/e688iSO2d4

— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 4, 2022

The need for an exemption arose due to Djokovic’s vaccination status, which he has chosen to keep private. In the early days of the pandemic, the Serb had caused quite a stir regarding his views on vaccines, and last year cited “freedom of choice” to justify his vaccine hesitancy against “forcing me to put something in my body”.

Djokovic’s stand complicated matters for him after the state of Victoria required tennis players arriving in Melbourne for the Grand Slam to be fully vaccinated, making the Australian Open the first major sporting event to carry a vaccine mandate.

The only way around it was a medical exemption, granted by two separate independent panels of medical experts. According to the Tennis Australia statement, the first panel comprised doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice while the second was an Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel appointed by the Victoria government. Only applications that met the guidelines set by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) could be approved.

“The process included the redaction of personal information to ensure privacy for all applicants,” the statement added. The entire procedure—right from the application to approval stage—therefore would remain confidential. "The reason for granting that exemption remains private, between the panel and the applicant,” Craig Tiley, the CEO of Tennis Australia who is also the Australian Open tournament director, said over the weekend.

Tiley had last month revealed that medical exemptions will be granted only to a “very small percentage” of players, adding that it was Djokovic’s choice to keep his vaccination status and medical details private.

A few players have been impacted by the compulsory vaccination rule, like 2019 men’s doubles champion Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who pulled out because he is unvaccinated, and former singles world No 54 Natalia Vikhlyantseva whose Sputnik V jab is not recognised by the Australian government.

India's Aman Dahiya, ranked 78th in the world in juniors, had made the cut for the qualifying event for the Australian Open junior championships but will not be able to fly after the 17-year-old’s request for exemption was shot down. His coaches at the Altevol Academy in Ahmedabad had written a couple of emails to Tennis Australia last month, explaining that India had not yet begun vaccination for teens and last week wrote another email requesting entry with one dose after the government allowed it from January 3. It was declined.

“All this while we thought if Djokovic isn’t getting an exemption, perhaps nobody else will. But it does pinch a little more now,” Dhruv Sachdev, who was to travel with Dahiya as coach to Australia, said.

标签: healthWishing

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