The controversial decision to award the tennis champion Novak Djokovic a medical exemption for the Australian Open has sparked outrage in Australia, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison stepping in to insist he shows evidence of a dispensation or face being “on the next flight home”.
This was announced by the 34-year-old Serbian world number one on Tuesday he had been exempted from playing in the Grand Slam tournament in Melbourne and said he was on his way to Australia.
Djokovic’s exemption from vaccination for the tournament caused outcry in the country. The player was expected to land in Melbourne late Wednesday local time ahead of the tournament, which is scheduled to start in the city on 17 January.
Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government said Djokovic was one of a “handful” of successful applicants among 26 people who sought exemptions from being vaccinated but who had not received any special treatment in the anonymous application process.
But his entry into the country was hurt by doubts after Australian Home Secretary Karen Andrews said that while he may meet tournament requirements, he must also comply with the rules at the Australian border.
“No individual competing at the Australian Open will be given any special treatment,” she said in a statement.
“Since December 15, 2021, fully vaccinated eligible visa holders can travel to Australia without having to apply for a travel exemption and enter eligible states and territories without quarantine,” she said.
“If an arriving person has not been vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons in order to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travelers.
“The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those arriving at our border comply with our strict border requirements.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Djokovic will have to prove he is actually exempt from being vaccinated if he wants to enter the country.
“We are awaiting his presentation and what evidence he gives us to support it,” he told a news conference after chairing a meeting with state leaders on dealing with the country’s record levels of Covid infections.
“If the evidence is insufficient, then he will not be treated any differently than anyone else and he will be on the next flight home. There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None at all.”
Other athletes, doctors and politicians took to social media to oppose the decision to release Djokovic, who has refused to share his vaccination status but has previously spoken out against being stabbed.
Stephen Parnis, a former vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, said the decision was “appalling”, while Victorian Liberal leader David Southwick said it was a “disgrace”.
Former Australian regulator Kevin Bartlett tweeted that Australians “have been taken for fools”, while another former footballer, Corey McKernan, said: “People with their loved ones who are dying / some need emergency treatment cannot enter in their own states.
“You tell people they can not go to [supermarket] Coles or a cafe without being overwhelmed, but if you’re number one in the world, do you get a pass? “
Many Australians, and especially those in Melbourne, who are hosting the first tennis major of the year later this month, have been exposed to a number of prolonged lockdowns over the past two years.
The country’s federal and state governments have put a lot of pressure on the importance of vaccinations. As a result, 90 percent of people over 16 have been double-dosed, and a booster program is rolling out.