Tournament chief Craig Tiley said the defending champion had received “no special favors” but urged the Serbian to reveal why he got the exemption to allay public anger.
All participants in the first Grand Slam of 2022, which begins on January 17, must be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a medical exemption, which is only granted after evaluation by two colleges of independent experts.
The nine-time Australian Open champion announced on Tuesday night that he was en route to Melbourne with “one go-ahead”, ending the long saga over whether he would defend his title.
But Stephen Parnis, a former vice president of the Australian Medical Association, said it sent a “appalling message” to people trying to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he refuses to get the shot he shouldn’t be allowed in,” Parnis said on Twitter.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said if the reasons for Djokovic’s exemption were “insufficient” then the Serb would be “on the next plane home”.
“We are awaiting his presentation and the evidence he provides to us to support (his exemption),” Morrison said at a press conference.
“If this evidence is insufficient, he will not be treated any differently from the others and will be on the next plane back. There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic. None at all.”
Former Australian ATP Tour player Sam Groth, now a TV commentator, said it was “a decision that spits in the face of every Victorian and Australian” in a column in Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper.
There was also outrage in the streets of Melbourne.
“I think it’s disgusting. I think he should have made his decision before now and it shouldn’t be a last minute decision to bring him in,” resident Ron Wilson told AFP. .
Other residents of the city of Victoria state were more sympathetic, Morteza Yari saying: “I think as long as the exemption is valid and they have valid reasons, I don’t see a problem with it. ”
Among the conditions for entry without a vaccine is whether a person has had Covid-19 in the past six months. It has not been revealed whether this is the case with Djokovic.
– “Sick hypocrisy” – Tiley said both panels assessed each exemption without knowing the identity of the claimant and that he did not know for what reasons Djokovic was given the green light, which is confidential.
“It will certainly be helpful for Novak to explain the conditions under which he requested and obtained an exemption,” Tiley told reporters, acknowledging the backlash.
“I encourage him to tell the community about this … we have been through a very difficult time over the past two years and we would appreciate any answers to that.”
Groth agreed that Djokovic should reveal why he was allowed in.
“You’re ready to say you have an exemption but not say why? That’s sick hypocrisy. I don’t like it at all,” Groth wrote.
However, Tiley has championed the integrity of the exemption request process, which is overseen by the National and Victorian state governments.
He revealed that only 26 of the estimated 3,000 players and support staff traveling to Australia for the tournament had requested a vaccine exemption. Only a few of them have been successful.
“Anyone who met those conditions was allowed in. There was no special favor. No special opportunity was given to Novak,” Tiley said.
Melbourne and Sydney have both suffered months of restrictions and lockdowns over the past two years and allowing Djokovic to travel has been widely criticized.
“If this exemption is true, it sends a dreadful message to millions of people who seek to reduce # Covid19Aus risk to themselves and others,” Parnis added.
Djokovic expressed his opposition to the Covid-19 vaccine in April 2020 when it was suggested that they could be mandatory for the tournament to resume.
“Personally, I’m not pro-vaccine,” Djokovic said at the time. “I wouldn’t want someone forcing me to get the vaccine so I could travel.”
Some players have expressed surprise at the exemption, including British doubles player Jamie Murray, who said at the ATP Cup in Sydney: “I think if it was me who wasn’t vaccinated, I wouldn’t. ‘would get no exemption. ”