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15 Feb, 2022 07:44

Djokovic willing to sacrifice titles instead of getting Covid jab

The Serbian star spoke on his Australian deportation drama and vaccine stance
Djokovic willing to sacrifice titles instead of getting Covid jab

Novak Djokovic says he is not anti-vaccine but is willing to forego future titles rather than be forced into taking the Covid jab in order to compete.

Djokovic missed out on the chance of a record 21st Grand Slam crown in Australia last month when he was deported from the country after officials claimed he could incite anti-vax sentiment among the population.

Speaking publicly for the first time to explain his vaccine stance since the debacle unfolded, Djokovic said he was willing to miss future events such as the French Open or Wimbledon, rather than be forced to take the vaccine to play.

“Yes, that is the price that I’m willing to pay,” Djokovic told the BBC.

Djokovic denied that he was anti-vax and said he would keep an “open mind” about potential Covid vaccination in future, but reiterated he has “always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”

“The principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else. I'm trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can,” said the world number one.

“I was never against vaccination. I understand that globally, everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus and seeing, hopefully, an end soon to this virus.”

The 34-year-old had been granted a medical exemption to compete at the Australian Open based on recovery from a Covid infection in December.

Speculation has swirled over the circumstances of Djokovic’s positive Covid test in Serbia, with the likes of the BBC suggesting there were questions over the serial numbers of the test certificates.

Djokovic also apologized when it emerged he had not fully isolated after his positive test, and was forced to clarify an inadvertent error on his Australian entry declaration.

But the star dismissed any speculation about his Covid infection or deliberate wrongdoing.  

“I understand that people come out with different theories on how lucky I was or how convenient it is [to contract Covid just before the Australian Open],” Djokovic said.

“But no one is lucky and convenient of getting Covid. Millions of people have and are still struggling with Covid around the world.

“So I take this very seriously, I really don’t like someone thinking I’ve misused something or in my own favor, in order to, you know, get a positive PCR test and eventually go to Australia.”

Djokovic added he felt “really sad and disappointed” about how the situation had played out in Australia, where he was twice placed in a detention facility before being ordered the leave the country at the personal intervention of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.

“I was not deported from Australia on the basis that I was not vaccinated, or I broke any rules or that I made an error in my visa declaration,” said Djokovic.

“All of that was actually approved and validated by the Federal Court of Australia and the minister for immigration.

“The reason why I was deported from Australia was because the minister for immigration used his discretion to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create some anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with.”

The row over the tennis star sparked a diplomatic spat, with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accusing Australian officials – including Prime Minister Scott Morrison – of conducting a “witch hunt” against Djokovic.

Djokovic could still face a three-year entry ban from the country, although that is something officials have left open to discussion.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion is next expected to be in action at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships later this month.

Beyond that, questions remain over his participation at the likes of the vaccinated-only Indian Wells tournament in March, and the French Open at the end of May.