Tennis: Djokovic criticised for medical exemption to play at Australian Open

Djokovic, gunning for a 10th title at Melbourne Park, has been cleared to play by Tennis Australia. PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Seven-times Grand Slam doubles champion Jamie Murray was among those to question the decision to grant world number one Novak Djokovic a medical exemption from getting vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to compete at the Australian Open.

Djokovic, gunning for a 10th title at Melbourne Park later this month, was cleared to play in the year's first major on Tuesday (Jan 4) by Tennis Australia.

The governing body had stipulated that all participants must be vaccinated against coronavirus or have a medical exemption granted by an independent panel of experts.

The panel would consist of doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice and the process was agreed in conjunction with the Victoria Department of Health.

Murray said it would have been difficult for him to get a similar exemption if he were in the Serbian's place.

"I mean, I don't know what to say about that really... I think if it was me that wasn't vaccinated, I wouldn't be getting an exemption," the Briton said during the ATP Cup in Sydney.

"But well done to him for getting clear to come to Australia and compete."

Britain's captain Liam Broady said that there was no option but to trust that Djokovic had a valid reason to seek an exemption.

Former British singles number one Andrew Castle was less critical, telling the BBC that he wasn't surprised by the reaction to the exemption but said it wasn't unfair.

"We don't know what Djokovic's medical exemption is and we'll never know because it's private. But he must have one. We knew this would happen when exemptions were announced... it's not unfair because he satisfied two independent panels," he said.

"I can understand the Australian public being furious," added Castle. "No-one is arguing about his tennis, the concern here is leadership and the example he is setting, but it's not mandatory to have the vaccination."

The decision, however, was condemned by journalists and former athletes in Australia, who have had to endure multiple lockdowns due to Covid-19 over the past two years.

Melbourne-based broadcaster Andy Maher said: "Djokovic is an all-time great, but not essential."

Former Australian Rules player Corey McKernan tweeted:"People with loved ones who are dying/some needing urgent treatment cannot get into their own states. You tell people they can't go to Coles or a cafe without being vaxxed but if you're world number one you get a pass?"

Victory at the Australian Open, which gets under way on Jan 17, will give Djokovic his 21st major title, one more than the joint-record he shares with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.

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