Tennis star Novak Djokovic in limbo in Australia

Tennis star Novak Djokovic has said that he is opposed to vaccinations. Australia now requires people entering the country to be vaccinated or apply for a special exemption. Djokovic had applied for and got an exemption from the Australian tennis body that issues such exemptions so that he could play in the Australian Open that takes place starting on January 17th. But later it turned out that he had applied for a visa that does not allow for medical exemptions. This caused a furore with people complaining that he was being given special treatment.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison then stepped in and said only the federal government has the authority to decide who is allowed into the country and under what circumstances and that he was not eligible to enter. The Victorian state government also refused to weigh in in support of Djokovic’s exemption. Meanwhile, Djokovic and his entourage had already departed for Australia on a long flight and upon arrival he was separated from the rest and held isolated under an armed guard at the Melbourne airport while his case was deliberated. In the end, his visa was cancelled and he was asked to leave.

Novak Djokovic’s attempts to compete at the Australian Open this month have collapsed after the No 1-ranked male tennis player was told his visa has been rejected. He is due to be flown out of Melbourne on Thursday amid a spiralling outcry over a controversial “medical exemption” agreed by the tournament’s organisers.

The reigning Australian Open champion was held up for several hours at passport control on Wednesday night at Tullamarine airport in Melbourne, the host city of the tournament, as he was questioned.

The exact grounds for Djokovic’s initial exemption were unclear, although his opposition to vaccination is well known, fuelling the criticism inside Melbourne, Victoria and across Australia.

Last year Djokovic said he was “opposed to vaccination” and added: “I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel … But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.”

So who provided the exemption and on what grounds? Australia’s tennis governing body Tennis Australia seems to be the one that made the decision and they said that exemptions are reviewed by a panel with the names of applicants redacted.

Shortly after Djokovic announced his “exemption permission”, Tennis Australia clarified that Djokovic had been granted a medical exemption and that his application was reviewed by two separate independent medical panels, firstly from Tennis Australia and then provided by the Victorian government. The personal information of each applicant was redacted. Craig Tiley, the Tennis Australia chief executive, revealed 26 tennis players and support staff had applied for exemptions with only a handful receiving them.

Djokovic has not publicly disclosed the medical condition that his application supposedly had used to get the exemption and that, coupled with his openly expressed opposition to vaccinations and his reckless partying during the pandemic, has hardened public opposition to him. Even Australian tennis great Rod Laver expressed skepticism.

The Australian tennis legend Rod Laver said in an interview with the Herald Sun that Djokovic should reveal the reason he was granted a medical exemption. “If he’s got a reason for [the exemption] then … we should know it,” Laver said. “Yes, you’re a great player and you’ve performed and won so many tournaments, so, it can’t be physical. So what is the problem?”

Djokovic’s main rival Rafael Nadal has also been short on sympathy for him.

“The only thing that I can say is I believe in what the people who know about medicine say, and if the people say that we need to get vaccinated, we need to get the vaccine. That’s my point of view,” said Nadal.

He continued: “I went through the Covid. I have been vaccinated twice. If you do this, you don’t have any problem playing here. That’s the only clear thing. The rest of the things, I don’t want to have or to give to you an opinion that I don’t have the whole information. The only clear thing for me is if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open and everywhere, and the world in my opinion have been suffering enough to not follow the rules.”

“I think if he wanted, he would be playing here in Australia without a problem. He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences. Of course I don’t like the situation that is happening. In some way I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision.

In addition to being opposed to the vaccine, Djokovic also seems to be a big believer in woo.

Djokovic’s lawyers have appealed his expulsion and he has been moved to an immigration hotel while a court considers his appeal. The hearing will be on Monday.

The Serbian president has also weighed in, demanding that he should be allowed in to Australia, summoning the Australian ambassador (a standard diplomatic ritual to signal displeasure), and threatening to make it an international incident.

There are going to be demands that the authorities who gave the initial exemption or Djokovic himself reveal exactly the grounds on which it was granted. This report says that his exemption was based on him claiming to have contracted Covid six months ago but that may have been insufficient to get an exemption.

The reason that I am posting this, even though it has no substantive value, is that it illustrates how people can get angry, and justifiably so, when they think that elites are getting privileged treatment that allows them to circumvent the rules while the hoi polloi have to endure all the hardships that the pandemic had wrought. We have seen this time and time again with politicians who are caught not following the safety guidelines that they urge on everyone else.


  1. K says

    Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Whether he gets the shot or not: up to him. Whether any country wants to host his plague rat self: up to that country. Australia wasn’t impressed enough by his sportzballz creds to let him in and possibly kick off a superspreader event. Good on them.

  2. Who Cares says

    Having had COVID is not on the list of reasons why a person can be exempted from having a vaccination in Australia.
    As written here the four exemptions are:
    had anaphylaxis after a previous dose of a vaccine
    had anaphylaxis after a dose of any component of a vaccine
    are significantly immunocompromised—for live vaccines only
    have natural immunity—for hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox only.

    Having had a disease against which you can get a vaccine is specifically excluded in the next section (What doesn’t count as a medical exemption) as a reason for not being vaccinated.

  3. StonedRanger says

    What? No Ivermectin? He didn’t anoint himself with healing oils? No bleach enemas? How are we supposed to take this guy seriously? /s

  4. prl says


    he had applied for a visa that does not allow for medical exemptions

    It’s still a bit unclear to me whether that’s the problem, or whether he held a visa that allowed for medical exemptions, but that he was attempting to use grounds for exemption that weren’t in fact grounds for exemption (that he’d had a COVID infection within the last 6 months).

    It also appears that the process for vaccine exemptions for visas to enter Australia have a significant problem: it seems to be possible to get the visa simply by saying that you have valid grounds for an exemption, but it’s not actually checked until you try to cross the border.

    Djokovic will have a proper court hearing on Mon 10 Jan (Australian time), and perhaps the details will become a bit clearer after that. So far the court has basically only decided that they will hear his objections to deportation, and have granted an interim court order to prevent his deportation until the hearing on Monday.

    There also seems to be a possibility that Tennis Australia (which runs the Australian Open) had incorrectly told players that they could get an exemption if they’d had a recent COVID infection, but of course in the end it’s the individual’s responsibility to make sure that they meet visa requirements.

    The letters to the editor in my local paper (Canberra Times) mainly follow what Mano says about people being annoyed that Djokovic seems to be demanding treatment that isn’t available to ordinary people.
    Paywalled, sorry, but I think you can get a small number of page reads without a subscription, and all the day’s letters are a single page.

  5. Who Cares says

    The Serbs have accused Australia of imprisoning Djokovic.
    Australia: “We’re not, he can get on a plane anytime and leave”.

  6. says

    And while Novak is sitting in his hotel room, he is not getting the athletic conditioning one needs to do well in these types of tournaments. (Yeah, he can do some stuff in his room, but it’s not the same.) Even if somehow he is allowed to play, I doubt he’ll be very effective. (Hoping I won’t have to eat my words.)

  7. enkidu says

    I have to admit to a delicious feeling of Schadenfreude over this. Djokovic is an over-entitled cry-baby covidiot and general woo meister.
    As for the Serbian reaction. It’s a bit rich, don’t you think, for Serbs to be complaining about “imprisonment in inhuman conditions” after the Bosnian genocide.

  8. prl says


    And while Novak is sitting in his hotel room, he is not getting the athletic conditioning one needs to do well in these types of tournaments.

    At the preliminary hearing of Djokovic’s challenge to his deportation, the judge asked the immigration department’s lawyers whether Djokovic could be moved to a quarantine location that had tennis courts. I don’t think that that was answered, but the issue has definitely been raised.

    But this article about the hotel says that it has tennis courts and a fitness centre, though I’d suspect not of the quality that Djokivic would normally train at:

    A second Australian Open player, Czech Renata Voráčová, has been ordered to leave Australia, apparently for similar reasons as Djokovic. The main difference was that she was actually cleared through immigration and her visa is only now being cancelled.
    She is apparently not intending to contest the cancellation of her visa.

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