New Delhi: A day after Australia cancelled the visa of men’s tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic because is unvaccinated, the Australian Border Force (ABF) is now checking the entry details of other foreign players in the country for the Australian Open.
Australia mandates not just a Covid vaccine certificate but also a negative RT-PCR test 72 hours prior to arriving in the country.
Some players were allegedly granted the same ‘medical exemption’ by Tennis Australia as was given to Djokovic, who has publicly expressed his opposition to vaccines.
The state of Victoria, where the Australian Open is organised every year, has mandated that all staff, players and spectators have to be fully vaccinated. In November 2021, Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt wrote to Tennis Australia, the main governing body of tennis in the country, explaining that no player would be granted a vaccine exemption, even if they had recently contracted Covid-19.
In an interview, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews also confirmed the news that the ABF was investigating two other cases, and said the players could be sent back home if they did not meet the country’s requirements.
“I’m aware of those allegations and I can assure you that the Australian Border Force is investigating that now…. ABF needs the opportunity to be able to conduct its investigation, but if the evidence is not there, then they will take the appropriate action,” she said.
‘Exemption’ outraged many
Djokovic landed in Melbourne Wednesday night with a ‘medical exemption’ to be allowed to play at the Australian Open by Tennis Australia, but was detained by the ABF, as he did not meet the entry requirements for an unvaccinated traveller. The exception granted to Djokovic, who has not taken the Covid vaccine jabs, had drawn sharp criticism on social media and from sportspersons, politicians and doctors.
Tennis Australia confirmed Thursday that other Australian Open participants had been allowed into the country after getting the infection in the past six months, and had used the same exemption which Djokovic applied for.
A spokesperson of the Australian Border Force told ABC News Thursday, “The ABF is aware of two other individuals who have used the same exemption letter issued by Tennis Australia as the basis for their medical exemption for the purposes of travelling to Australia…. ABF is making inquiries regarding these individuals…as the investigation is ongoing, we won’t be making any further comment at this time.”
According to reports, Djokovic tried entering Australia on the basis that he had got Covid in the past six months, as well as that he was given an exemption by Tennis Australia, because he was unvaccinated.
Sources in the Australian government told ABC that the Australian Open defending champion gave the ABF officials a copy of the medical exemption on the Tennis Australia letterhead and signed by Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer, but it was rejected.
Djokovic had ‘minimal’ exemption documents
Djokovic, an outspoken opponent of Covid vaccination mandates, is currently being held at Melbourne’s Park Hotel, known to house asylum-seekers, while his team has challenged his visa cancellation in court, which will be taken up Monday.
According to a report in The Age, government sources familiar with Djokovic’s paperwork said the player’s vaccine exemption documents were ‘minimal’ and supported only by one doctor. According to them, other players who entered the country with the same vaccine exemption had more than one doctor supporting their claims of an earlier Covid infection.
Earlier, Russian tennis player Nata Vikhlyantseva announced that she would not be allowed to play at the Australian Open this year as the Sputnik vaccine she had taken is not yet approved by the authorities in Australia.
Unfortunately, I will not participate in this year AO event. I’m really happy with a level of tennis I showed on a last few events and I wish to play in 🇦🇺 but Sputnik is not verified yet. Good luck for all participants and AO team, who always made amazing events!🎾🦘 pic.twitter.com/l2UDmUmSF8
— Nata Vikhlyantseva (@NVikhlyantseva) December 20, 2021
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)