Novak Djokovic is being held in a room with police out front after landing in Melbourne for the Australian Open, his father said Wednesday.
The top-ranked Serb received a medical exemption to play at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the season, where he is a nine-time winner and the defending champion. The exemption allows him to play without being vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter,” Djokovic’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, said. “In front of the room are two policemen.”
The Age newspaper in Melbourne reported that Djokovic had landed Wednesday before midnight local time at Tullamarine Airport, but his entry was delayed because of a mistake with his visa application.
Djokovic’s revelation on social media that he was heading to Australia seeking a record 21st major title sparked some debate and plenty of headlines on Wednesday.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the “completely legitimate application and process” and insisted there was no special treatment for Djokovic.
The Victoria state government mandated that only fully vaccinated players, staff, fans and officials could enter Melbourne Park when the tournament starts on Jan. 17. Only 26 people connected with the tournament applied for a medical exemption and, Tiley said, only a “handful” were granted.
The names, ages and nationalities of applicants were redacted for privacy reasons before each application for a vaccine exemption was assessed by two independent panels of experts, and Tiley noted that Djokovic is under no obligation to reveal his reason for seeking one.
“I would encourage him to talk to the community about it,” Tiley said. “We have been through a very tough period over the last two years.”
Among the reasons allowed for those receiving 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.
Jaala Pulford, Victoria state’s acting minister for sports, said “nobody has had special treatment. The process is incredibly robust.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison initially said the medical exemption decision was a matter for the government of Victoria, where Melbourne is the state capital.
“They have provided [Djokovic] with an exemption to come to Australia, and so we then act in accordance with that,” Morrison said. “States provide exemptions for people to enter … and that’s been happening for the last two years.”
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews then clarified in a statement that the Australian Border Force would make the final determination.
“While the Victorian government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border,” Andrews said.
“If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travelers.”
When asked again about Djokovic’s case, Morrison added: “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.”
“And so if medical exemptions had been provided by medical professionals and that’s been furnished to him as a proviso for him to get on that plane, well, that will have to stack up when he arrives in Australia,” the prime minister said.
Later still, Pulford, the Victoria state politician, posted on Twitter to say “the federal government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s application to enter Australia.”
She said the state government would not be providing individual application support, adding in a second post: “We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors.”
Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020. He finished one win short of a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2021 when he lost the U.S. Open final to Daniil Medvedev.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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