Djokovic’s Australian Open career in jeopardy owing to inept handling of confusing rules

Abhijit Sen Gupta
Abhijit Sen Gupta

L’Affaire Djokovic has become a huge worldwide controversy that has divided opinions sharply. While fans of the Serbian superstar are fuming with anger at the treatment that has been meted out to him, there are those who feel that he has to face the consequences for not complying with valid exemption requirements where COVID vaccines are concerned. Why rules be bent for any person, whether he is a celebrity sports star or ordinary citizen is the question that many people have raised?

One such person is fellow tennis star Rafael Nadal who has no sympathy for Djokovic. “He made his own decision and everyone is free to do that. But there are some consequences that have to be faced,” said Nadal, who is tied with Djokovic and Federer on career grand slam titles.

Whatever may be the final outcome of this entire episode, one thing that has become crystal clear is that there seems to have been a huge gap in communication and the situation was not handled in a tactful manner. Even now confusion reigns in all sections about this issue. According to information provided to by Imran Mirza, father of Sania Mirza, there are clearly laid down guidelines about medical exemptions to vaccination pertaining to players. For the purposes of entering Australia, the definition of a fully vaccinated person is someone who has had two doses of approved vaccines. One can also enter Australia with an overseas medical exemption certificate. But under laws of the state of Victoria, you cannot access the Melbourne Park premises unless the exemption is reviewed by an Australian medical practitioner and recorded in the Australian Immunization Register (AIR). Only after that you will be allowed to enter the Melbourne park area. An independent panel of medical experts has also been appointed to review exemptions but for their approval to be finalized, the applications and supporting documents have to be forwarded to the independent panel before 10th of December 2021. Djokovic seems to have been caught wrong footed by the turn of events.

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According to media reports, Djokovic was given a medical exemption by the state government of Victoria and the organisers of the Australian Open on 1st January, based on information he supplied to two independent medical panels, and he was approved for a visa. But later it emerged that the Victoria state medical exemption, allowed for people who tested positive for the coronavirus within the last six months, was deemed invalid by the Australian border authorities. So was there a slip up between the Victoria state medical board and the border authorities?

It certainly seems to be the case. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has reported the details of the case and the documents. Apparently Djokovic received a letter from Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer on 30th of December, 2021, stating that he had been provided with medical exemption from COVID vaccination on the grounds that he had recently recovered from COVID. The exemption certification said the date of Djokovic’s first positive test was 16th December, 2021, and thereafter he had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms in the past 72 hours. The Victoria state government, which approved the medical exemptions for Djokovic, said those exemptions were for access to Melbourne Park, not the border. That is the most ridiculous argument ever heard. How will it be possible for anyone to enter Melbourne Park without crossing the Australian border? So, who is to be blamed for this fiasco? Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “Rules are rules” and that incoming passengers were responsible for meeting border regulations. Tennis Australia and the government of Victoria State, where the Australian Open is played, are both blaming differences over the definitions concerning grounds for medical exemptions. Now the legal experts are looking into the case. Djokovic’s lawyers have submitted that Djokovic received confirmation from Australia’s Department of Home Affairs clarifying that his travel would meet the requirements for quarantine free arrival in Australia. So clearly there has been a communication gap in Australia. The Australian Open organisers have only commented that no players have been misled over the vaccination requirements. The misfortune for tennis lovers is that Djokovic is without doubt one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the game. Now if he gets deported, then he could be barred from the country for up to three years. A statement of the Australian Border Force said: “A person whose visa has been canceled, may be subject to a three year exclusion period that prevents the grant of a further temporary visa.” That would be a truly huge setback to this talented tennis champion’s amazing career, all due to a difference in interpreting rules by the different organisations within Australia.

And because of this inept handling of the visa issue the world be less happier than its share because it would not be able to see one of the greatest players of the game in Australia.

Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.

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