Novak Djokovic could be banned from defending his Australian Open title because he refuses to be vaccinated against coronavirus.
The Victorian Government appears likely to mandate vaccines for all players at the tennis tournament in January, even if the state is past 90 per cent jabbed.
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley previously raised concerns such a requirement would prevent a group of big name stars from competing who are vaccine hesitant.
Among them is world number one and nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic, who would be attempting to win his record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne.
Novak Djokovic (pictured with his wife Jelena Ristic in 2019) would be chasing his record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne in 2022
Djokovic who has already won the event nine-times could be banned from playing if a vaccine mandate is brought in (pictured at the 2021 Australian Open in front of minimal attendees)
While tennis and cricket players avoided large-scale worker vaccine rules from the Andrews Government, discussions about a separate mandate for the Australian Open are underway.
Tiley along with AFL boss Gillon McLaughlin, Melbourne Cricket Ground chief executive Stuart Fox, and government representatives have been holding meetings about how Covid-safe sports events would be handled.
Despite Tiley’s objections, Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton will likely only let fully vaccinated international players to attend the tournament.
‘Tiley said we won’t get star players and the state government effectively said ‘suck it up [and] they capitulated,’ a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The Age.
The group of sports bosses also quickly agreed that spectators and customer service workers at sporting events need to be fully vaccinated to attend.
Fans who want to watch the southern hemisphere’s biggest tennis event first-hand will have to be double jabbed to get through the gates (pictured: spectators at the 2021 Australian Open)
Tennis’s top level governing bodies the ATP and WTA have no rule in place requiring compulsory vaccines for players – leaving that requirement to individual tournaments.
In September as the US Open was underway, the ATP estimated about half of male players had been vaccinated for Covid-19 while the WTA said their figure was a little higher at about 60 per cent of female players.
Both sporting bodies said they recommended the vaccine for players but would not make a jab mandatory.
‘While we respect everyone’s right to free choice, we also believe that each player has a role to play in helping the wider group achieve a safe level of immunity,’ the ATP said in a statement.
‘Doing so will allow us to ease restrictions on-site for the benefit of everyone on Tour.’
Britain’s Andy Murray (pictured with wife Kim Murray) is pro-vaccine saying the wider community needed to be protected
At the US Open, the same rules did not apply for spectators – who weren’t allowed through the gates unless they could show they were fully vaccinated.
Top tennis stars on the tour are divided over the jab. Retired British star Andy Murray said vaccination was needed to ‘look out for the wider public’.
Australia’s top player Ash Barty was one of the first on tour immunised back in April under an early vaccination push by the WTA.
But others such as Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas are resistant.
The 23-year-old caused an uproar in his home country of Greece when he declared he would only get the jab if it was made compulsory to compete.
And German Alexander Zverev was pictured partying in Monaco just days after being swept up in Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour debacle in 2020.
Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas (pictured in Boston last month) previously caused a stir when he said he would not get a Covid vaccine unless the ATP made them mandatory
The event held as the official tour stalled, led to Djokovic, his wife, three more players, and other members of their various entourage to test positive to coronavirus following a stint at a Belgrade nightclub.
‘I have just received the news that my team and I have tested negative for Covid-19,’ Zverev posted in 2020.
‘I deeply apologise to anyone that I have potentially put at risk by playing this tour. I will proceed to follow the self-isolating guidelines advised by our doctors. As an added precaution, my team and I will continue with regular testing.
‘I wish everyone who has tested positive a speedy recovery. Stay safe.’
A furious Nick Kyrgios took the 22-year-old to task on Instagram over the nightclub photos.
‘So I wake up and I see more controversial things happening all over the world, but one that stuck out for me was seeing Zverev again man, again, again, how selfish can you be? How selfish can you be?’ he said.