Novak Djokovic — the world’s number-one tennis player — has been stopped at the Australian border and is being held in a room guarded by police following intense backlash over a medical exemption he was granted allowing him to play in the 2022 Australian Open, multiple media outlets reported Wednesday.
What are the details?
According to a report from Melbourne newspaper, the Age, the Victorian state government rejected a request to sponsor the tennis star’s visa just hours before he landed in the country Tuesday night. The rejection reportedly stemmed from concerns over evidence supporting his vaccine exemption as well as an allegedly erroneous visa application.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner and defending Australian Open champion was recently granted exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate by Tennis Australia, the country’s governing body for the sport, to compete in this month’s tournament.
But government sources speaking to the Age suggested that the conditions that afforded him medical exemption from the athletics organization may not be enough to grant him entry into the country due to the government’s strict rules for unvaccinated individuals.
ESPN reported that Djokovic’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, said that “Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter” and “in front of the room are two policemen.”
The outlet noted that among allowed reasons for a vaccination exemption are acute major medical conditions, serious adverse reaction to a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, or evidence of a COVID-19 infection within the previous six months.
Infection within the past six months has been speculated as the reason Djokovic was granted an exemption; however, that suggestion has not been confirmed.
The tennis star, who has in the past been outspoken about his opposition to COVID-19 vaccines, raised eyebrows when he posted on Instagram Tuesday that he was “heading Down Under with an exemption permission” to defend his Australian Open title.
The announcement reportedly sparked national outrage. Many Australians chastised the governing authorities for creating a double standard by allowing unvaccinated celebrity figures like Djokovic to live by one set of rules while forcing regular citizens, who have been suffering under stringent COVID-19 lockdown measures for more than a year, to live by another.
But Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has defended the “completely legitimate application and process” and insisted there was no special treatment for Djokovic, according to ESPN. Tiley added that it would be “helpful” if Djokovic explained to the public the reasoning for his exemption but said he was under no obligation to do so.
Djokovic’s prospects of gaining entry to the country are now reportedly in limbo. There appears to be an ongoing standoff between federal and state leaders over whether the tennis star should be allowed access or not.
Early this morning, Jaala Pulford, Victoria state’s acting minister for sports, tweeted that the federal government had asked her to support Djokovic’s visa application. But she said she denied the request, sending the issue back to the federal government.
According to the Age, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Wednesday afternoon that Djokovic “must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.”
“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and will be on the next plane home — there should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic,” he added.