Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

The decision to award the world’s top tennis player Novak Djokovic a medical release to travel to Melbourne to defend his Australian Open title has sparked outcry on social media and criticism from other athletes, medical professionals and politicians.

The Serb, who is seeking a record 21st Grand Slam singles title, has consistently refused to divulge whether he was vaccinated against the coronavirus.

He was outspoken in his opposition to vaccine mandates, calling for freedom around the world. Djokovic wrote on Instagram on Tuesday that he had “a release permit”.

Australian Open organizers reacted quickly with a statement confirming that Djokovic was on his way to Australia to take part in the tournament, which starts on 17 January.

“Djokovic has applied for a medical exemption granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts,” the statement said.

The Victorian state government has ordered that all players, staff and supporters attending the Australian Open be vaccinated in full, unless there is a genuine reason why an exemption should be granted.

Australia’s daily COVID-19 cases reached a record high on Wednesday for the third consecutive day, further hampering hospital resources and testing facilities as public anger escalates over the handling of the fast-moving Omicron outbreak.

Officials on Wednesday reported a record 64,758 new cases, the majority in New South Wales and Victoria, the country’s most populous states.

‘Taken for fools’

After the announcement, former Australian Rules player Kevin Bartlett tweeted that Australians were “taken for fools”.

Another former player, Corey McKernan, tweeted: “People with loved ones who are dying / some who need urgent treatment cannot get into their own states. You tell people they can not go to Coles or a cafe without to be grown, but if you are world number one, do you get a pass? ”

Many Australians, and especially those in Melbourne hosting the tournament, have been subjected to a series of protracted restrictions over the past two years.

Federal and state government strongly pushed the importance of vaccinations. As a result, 90 percent of people over the age of 16 are double-dosed and a booster program is rolling out.

“It sends a terrible message to millions who are trying to reduce # COVID19Aus risk for themselves and others. “Vaccination shows respect, Novak,” tweeted Stephen Parnis, a former vice president of the Australian Medical Association.

“I do not care how good a tennis player he is. If he refuses to be vaccinated, he should not be allowed. “

Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government said Djokovic had not received any special treatment in a blind review process.

Tennis Australia said the process included the “review of personal information to ensure privacy for all applicants”, with details of names, ages and nationalities removed.

The Australian Open’s director, Craig Tiley, said “fair and independent protocols” had been put in place to assess medical exemption applications “and Djokovic had gone through that” completely legal application and process “.

Tiley said Wednesday 26 players or support staff applied anonymously for a medical release, although only a “handful” were granted.

Last month, James Merlino, Victoria’s deputy prime minister, insisted that medical exemptions would not be “a loophole for privileged tennis players” and would only be possible in “exceptional circumstances if you have an acute medical condition”.

“Many people in the Victorian community will find this a disappointing outcome, but the process is the process,” Jaala Pulford, the state’s acting sports minister, said on Wednesday. “No one receives or will receive special treatment because of who they are or what they have achieved professionally.”

‘It’s disgusting’

Some players expressed surprise at the decision, including British doubles player Jamie Murray who said at the ATP Cup in Sydney: “I think if it was me who was not vaccinated, I would not have gotten a release.”

There was also outrage on the streets of Melbourne, with resident Ron Wilson telling AFP news agency: “I think it’s disgusting. I think he should have decided beforehand and it should not be a last minute decision to get him in. “

There is no limit on crowd numbers for the 2022 tournament and no strict hotel guarantee for players, although proof of double vaccination for COVID-19 is a requirement for entry and players will undergo daily tests.

Djokovic will avoid hotel quarantine on arrival, with visitors to Australia treating medical exemptions for the vaccination the same as people who have been fully vaccinated.

The 34-year-old Djokovic has won nine of his 20 major titles at the Australian Open. He shares the men’s record for most majors with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

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