Australian Open boss Craig Tiley is urging nine-time champion Novak Djokovic to reveal the reasons for his medical exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination amid public outrage over the decision.
Djokovic will arrive in Melbourne on Wednesday to defend his title after being one of only a “handful” of exemptions granted among 26 applications from players and their support staff.
The world No.1 will avoid 14 days quarantine upon arrival with visitors to Australia who have medical exemptions treated the same as vaccinated arrivals, so will be ready to play on day one on January 17.
Djokovic also won’t face any extra testing procedures during the tournament.
Tiley insists the Serbian superstar hadn’t received any special treatment and says Djokovic was anonymously assessed by two separate independent panels of medical experts.
He says Djokovic met the strict guidelines set by the federal government advisory group ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation).
“If I want to come as an international visitor and I’m not vaccinated, and I meet those guidelines, any medical practitioner can can grant me an exemption and add my name to the immunisation register,” Tiley said on Wednesday.
“And then I’m able to come in as an unvaccinated individual, so it’s not just Novak.
“He went through that process and it’s completely legitimate application and process.”
Tiley said he wasn’t privy to the medical condition that allowed Djokovic to receive the exemption.
A positive COVID-19 test within the past six months is one possibility.
“The process has been clear and we completely understand and empathise that some would have been upset by the fact that Novak Djokovic has come in because of his statements around vaccination in the past couple of years,” Tiley said.
“It’s ultimately up to him to discuss with the public his condition if he chooses to do that, and the reason why he received an exemption.”
Djokovic isn’t required to make his exemption reason public and, given he refused to disclose his vaccination status last year on the grounds of privacy, it seems unlikely he will share the information.
However, aware of the outrage in the community, Tiley said it would be “helpful” if the 34-year-old Djokovic did.
“It will certainly be helpful if Novak was to explain the conditions in which he sought and was granted an exemption,” the tournament director said.
“We would love … Novak to talk about it and help us with it but ultimately it’s going to be up to him.
“We aren’t in a position, even legally, to disclose other people’s medical information.
“I would encourage him to talk to the community about it … we have been through a very tough period over the last two years and would appreciate some answers to that.”
Djokovic took to social media on Tuesday night to announce he would be back at Melbourne Park to defend his crown, as he chases a record-setting 21st grand slam title.
“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022,” he posted on Instagram.
But as well as the widespread fury, many have expressed surprise at why an elite athlete with 20 grand slam titles under their belt would need a medical exemption.
Even former Australian Open chief Paul McNamee posed the question last month: “Why would he apply for one? He is the healthiest guy in the world.”
AFL great turned sports commentator Kevin Bartlett captured the general sentiment of Australians on Wednesday.
“Novak Djokovic is the greatest tennis player ever,” Bartlett tweeted.
“Forget Laver, Agassi, Federer, Sampras, Nadal, McEnroe, Connors and Borg for Novak has won 20 Grand Slams and 87 titles and a billion dollars without us knowing he had a debilitating medical problem.
“We have been taken for fools. Kb.”