MELBOURNE • Tennis players planning to compete in the Australian Open at Melbourne Park should get vaccinated for Covid-19 to give themselves the best chance of playing the Grand Slam, an Australian government official has said.
The state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, has introduced a vaccine mandate for all professional athletes but authorities have yet to clarify whether this also covers athletes from overseas or other Australian states.
Victoria's Sports Minister Martin Pakula has urged players to leave no room for doubt.
"If I were an ATP or WTA player, I'd be getting vaccinated," he told local radio station SEN.
"That will give them the best opportunity to play in the Australian Open with the more minimal restrictions that might be in place for those people."
Both the women's WTA and men's ATP tours have urged players to get vaccinated but some have expressed reservations, including Australian Open men's champion and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who recovered from Covid-19 last year but is opposed to vaccine mandates.
Tennis Australia, which organises the Grand Slam, has not disclosed any arrangements for players for the upcoming tournament in January.
But fully vaccinated players are expected to enjoy more freedoms to move around and may be able to avoid the country's mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival.
Australia's borders remain effectively shut to non-residents, and Mr Pakula said he did not know whether unvaccinated people would be allowed to enter the country by the time of the Australian Open, which starts on Jan 17.
"That's going to be the subject, I suspect, of discussion at national cabinet and amongst the federal cabinet," he said.
"As for the rules that might apply around the Australian Open, specifically, we're in discussions with Tennis Australia and the department of health about that."
Melbourne has been locked down for months as authorities battle to control an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant while rolling out vaccinations.
Victoria will lift some lockdown restrictions when 70 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated, which should be later this month or next month according to official projections.
Tennis is not the only sport which will be affected by Covid-19 restrictions in Australia, with cricket's upcoming Ashes tour set to be played in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
But England cricketers will be able to go to the beach and play golf under protocols agreed for the five-Test series, which Cricket Australia chief Nick Hockley said on Monday was never seriously in doubt.
The England and Wales Cricket Board gave "conditional approval" for the trip late last week after months of negotiations over concerns around tough coronavirus rules for players and their families.
Hockley said both teams should be able to live normal lives in public, within reason, during the tour that is due to start in Brisbane on Dec 8.
The Perth fixture, however, is under a cloud, because Western Australia requires inter-state visitors to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE