Novak Djokovic Must Prove Vaccine Medical Exemption or Go Home, Australian PM Says

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 5, 2022

MADRID, SPAIN - 2021/12/03: Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays against Marin Cilic of Croatia during the Davis Cup Finals 2021 Semi Final match between Croatia and Serbia at Madrid Arena. 
Victory for Djokovic, Novak. (6.4) (6.2). (Photo by Atilano Garcia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Atilano Garcia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said tennis superstar Novak Djokovic will need to provide "sufficient evidence" to prove he deserves a medical exemption from the country's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large-scale events such as the 2022 Australian Open.

Djokovic wrote Tuesday on Instagram he'd received "exemption permission" to take part in the first Grand Slam event of the season. Morrison said during a press conference Wednesday the top-ranked player in the world is not yet cleared to participate, per Reuters.

"We await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that," Morrison said. "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."

Both Tennis Australia, the sport's governing body in the country, and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the exemption given to Djokovic amid concern he was given special treatment because of his status as a 20-time Grand Slam champion, per John Pye of the Associated Press.

Tiley said Djokovic went through the same "completely legitimate application and process" that other players seeking exemptions were asked to complete, and Tennis Australia said the process included "redaction of personal information to ensure privacy for all applicants," which would also prevent any single player from preferential treatment.

Australian Open organizers also released a statement about Djokovic's status, via the AP:

"Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts. One of those was the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel appointed by the Victorian Department of Health. They assessed all applications to see if they met the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization guidelines."

Jaala Pulford, the Minister for Employment in Western Victoria, also defended the process Wednesday, per Reuters.

"I think lots of people in the Victorian community will find this to be a disappointing outcome," Pulford said. "But the process is the process; nobody has had special treatment. The process is incredibly robust."

She appeared to suggest continued resistance in a Twitter post later Wednesday, though:

Jaala Pulford MP @JaalaPulford

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.<br><br>2/2

So Djokovic's status for the Australian Open, an event he's won nine times, remains unsettled. He's only missed one Grand Slam since his major debut in 2005—the 2017 U.S. Open because of an elbow injury.

The tournament is scheduled to begin Jan. 17.