Tennis star Novak Djokovic gets COVID vax exemption for Australian Open, but leaders say not so fast

The prime minister of the country said the world's number 1 ranked player would have to present "evidence" that he deserves his exemption

Updated: January 5, 2022 - 10:04am

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Star tennis player Novak Djokovic was granted a medical exemption to having COVID-19 vaccine to play in the Australian open, but the Australian government is looking for a more extensive explanation from the athlete as he arrives to compete in the Grand Slam tournament.

"We await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that," said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. "If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home. There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever."

The exemption was reportedly given to Djokovic by event organizers. The Victoria state government has mandated that all players, staff, and fans attending the Australian open (which Djokovic has won nine times) be fully vaccinated.

Officials say Djokovic, the world's No. 1 ranked male tennis player, was one of a small number of people granted medical exemptions and that he had received no special treatment. Applications for exemptions were anonymous and independently reviewed by two panels.

"The issue is whether he has sufficient evidence to support that he would qualify for that exception," Morrison said. 

It is unclear why Djokovic sought a medical exemption to the vaccine. Common reasons have included past poor reactions to vaccines, recent surgical procedures, evidence of a coronavirus infection occurring in the last six months, and myocarditis. 

Djokovic tested positive for the viral illness in June 2020, following a small exhibition series in Serbia and Croatia.

Australia, a nation that has implemented consistently harsh COVID lockdown measures and was at one time an advocate of the "zero-COVID" strategy, has seen a significant uptick in cases in recent weeks due to the Omicron variant.