No special treatment in Djokovic exemption, Australian officials say

Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, January 15, 2019. Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in action during the match against Mitchell Krueger of the U.S. REUTERS

Novak Djokovic did not receive any special treatment in getting an exemption from COVID-19 vaccination requirements to play at the Australian Open later this month, Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government said on Wednesday.

The world No. 1 announced on Tuesday he received an exemption to play in the Grand Slam tournament in Melbourne. Officials said he was one of a "handful" of successful applicants among 26 people who sought exemptions.

"I think lots of people in the Victorian community will find this to be a disappointing outcome," acting Victorian Sports Minister Jaala Pulford told a media conference.

"But the process is the process; nobody has had special treatment. The process is incredibly robust. It's de-identified and we are where we are, and so the tennis can begin."

The decision to grant Djokovic an exemption sparked sharp criticism in Australia, where more than 90% of people over 16 have had two vaccine doses against COVID-19.

Melbourne had the world's longest cumulative lockdown to contain COVID, and an outbreak of the Omicron variant has sent case numbers to record levels.

Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said the two-stage application process was confidential and run by independent experts. All applications were assessed to ensure any exemptions met conditions set out by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

Tiley said those reasons included previous adverse response to vaccines, recent major surgery or myocarditis or certified evidence of a COVID infection in the previous six months.

The Serbian, who had declined to reveal his vaccination status, said previously that he was unsure whether he would compete at the Jan. 17-30 tournament in Melbourne due to concerns over Australia's quarantine rules. "

"We completely understand and empathise with ... people being upset about the fact that Novak has come in because of his statements over the past couple of years around vaccination," Tiley told reporters.

"However it is ultimately up to him to discuss with the public his condition, if he chooses to do that, and the reasons why he received an exemption."

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