Australian Open organizers say Novak Djokovic wasn’t afforded special treatment after being granted a medical exemption
The decision to grant world number one Novak Djokovic a medical exemption to participate in this month’s Australian Open was conducted in an entirely ‘fair and equal’ process, according to event chief Craig Tiley.
The Serb, who in a nine-time winner of the Melbourne event, revealed in a social media post on Tuesday that he had been given special medical dispensation to travel to Australia amid the country’s strict rules on granting entry to visitors throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Twenty-six anonymous applications were made, with Djokovic’s later being confirmed after it was determined that it met criteria laid out by the ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation).
It was also said that just a “handful” of the applicants were granted the exemption.
“We do everything we possibly can to give everyone an equal and fair opportunity to come into the country,” said Tiley on Wednesday of the application process.
“We have been saying from the beginning that anyone coming into Australia or coming into the ground in the Melbourne precinct would have to be vaccinated or would have to have a medical exemption approved by a medical practitioner or by a panel.
“In Australia, we set a first panel… made up of independent doctors, epidemiologists, and designed to assess any vaccination exemption applications. They were blind applicants, in other words, no-one knew who the applicant was.
“[The applications were] reviewed and assessed and then passed on to the second panel, which was set up by the government for further assessment.”
While the finer points of Djokovic’s exemption are likely to remain private, Tiley said that exemptions could be granted in cases where a person was at risk of having an “adverse reaction” to a vaccine.
Other criteria included having recently had surgery or the heart condition myocarditis, or if the subject has recovered from a Covid infection within the past six months.
“If you meet any of that criteria then it is assessed by the medical team and required to provide some information that is assessed by both panels. If it is granted then you will be given an exemption,” Tiley added.
It was also acknowledged by Tiley that the Australian Open will likely be subject to accusations of favoritism given Djokovic’s success in the tournament which has seen him win the last three events – and with another victory set to break the all-time Grand Slam wins record with 21.
He said that he “completely understands” the reaction, particularly given Djokovic’s perceived stance of vaccine hesitancy over the course of the past 12 months or so.
“However, it’s ultimately up to him to discuss with the public his condition, if you choose to do that, and the reason why he received an exemption,” he added.
News of the Djokovic’s exemption has extended outside of the sport, however, and been the source of debate within Australia as the country continues to grapple with a surge in cases due to the Omicron variant of Covid-19 – with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warning the Serb that he could be on the “next plane home” if he is unable to adequately explain his decision to not receive a vaccine.
“My view is that any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border (rules)… when he arrives in Australia,” he said.
“He has to because if he’s not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully vaccinated travelers.
“My view is he should be treated no different to anyone else.”
These comments have sparked fears that Djokovic’s exemption may be withdrawn or over-ruled, with sports reporter Brad Walter asking: “What does that mean? Is the Federal Government going to stop him coming or playing? Or are they saying that it was them who granted him an exemption? Or does he now have to apply to them?”
Another reporter, Jack Snape, added: “Border Force may have questions over info Djokovic has provided in his application for an exemption. ‘Acceptable proof’ in the Andrews statement suggests the information may have been acceptable to Vic, but to Border Force? Maybe not.”