Djokovic Granted Permission to Compete in Australian Open Despite Being Unvaccinated

There follows a guest post by tennis fan David Hansard, a contributor to the Daily Sceptic as well as Quillette and the Conservative Woman, about the news that Novak Djokovic, the highest ranked male player in the world, has been granted an exemption to the rule that all competitors in the Australian Open have to be vaccinated. Needless to say, this has annoyed a lot of Covid hysterics.

Contrary to many people’s expectations, world number one Novak Djokovic, has announced he is to compete for a tenth Australian Open title. Following months of doubt and speculation about whether he would be allowed to play, he has been granted a medical exemption from being vaccinated against Covid. The news came only 12 days before the tournament is due to begin.

Djokovic has always refused to reveal his vaccination status. It was assumed by many – correctly, it now turns out – that he has not been vaccinated. Under tournament rules everyone who attends – whether players, spectators, media or staff – must either be vaccinated or have an exemption.

As one of the fittest people on Earth, it was difficult to see how Djokovic would be granted an exemption. For a long time it seemed that his only option was either to get vaccinated or to miss out on what has been the most successful tournament in the champion’s career – he’s the current title-holder. The latter seemed the far likelier outcome. Djokovic’s challenge to Federer and Nadal as the male player with the most grand slam titles looked set to be delayed until later this year.

But after his request for exemption was granted by medical experts in Australia, he is now on his way to Melbourne.

It has delighted many but – as expected – it has also annoyed some in the tennis world, including Andy Murray’s brother Jamie. A lot of the reaction on social media has been particularly splenetic, whether against Djokovic himself, the tennis authorities, or the Victorian authorities, who have waived the need for him to quarantine for 14 days on arrival. The torrent of abuse began minutes after the news broke. Djokovic was immediately cast as evil and selfish, indifferent to others’ well-being. Tournament organisers were attacked for recklessly showing favouritism to a crowd-pulling player, prioritising profit over public health.

It does not seem to matter to most critics whether Djokovic has, in fact, got a valid reason for exemption, or even that exemption is allowed under the rules. For the most part they vaguely assume he is being dishonest, and that despite his application having been anonymously assessed by two independent panels, something nefarious is afoot. Nothing washes with them, including the possibility – as the BBC reports – that the exemption may have been granted because vaccination can be deferred if you have recently been infected with Covid. Tournament Director Craig Tiley has said some other players have already been granted exemption, yet Djokovic is the one in the cross hairs.

We will probably never know the reason for the exemption, and rightly so. It’s a private matter. But whatever the explanation, the response of his critics, though expected, is disappointing. Their intolerant and inflexible behaviour is distinctly authoritarian, something we have grown used to from the start of the pandemic.

Djokovic didn’t become the world number one – and arguably the greatest male player of all time – just because of his supreme tennis skills. It’s also thanks to his commitment, persistence and physical and mental resilience. Many who are unhappy with the tournament’s decision have expressed the hope that Djokovic will be punished by the crowd in Melbourne, and his performance adversely affected. That’s wishful thinking. Although Djokovic is not entirely immune to the feelings of spectators, his critics will be disappointed if they believe a few boos will prevent him from winning another grand slam tournament.

Stop Press: The Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison has threatened to put Djokovic “on the next plane home” if he can’t provide evidence of his vaccine exemption status.