In normal times, Novak Djokovic would be warmly welcomed to the Australian Open, as the world No. 1 and the tournament’s defending champion. But Djokovic avoided the country’s strict vaccine requirements by getting an exemption, prompting many Australians, including the prime minister, to say the tennis star shouldn’t get special treatment.
“Any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday after reporters asked him about the case.
“If he’s not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons,” Morrison said of the Serbian, adding that the federal government is waiting to see what evidence Djokovic will provide to support his request.
“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home,” Morrison said, hiking his thumb in the air for emphasis. “There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.”
During the pandemic, Djokovic has aired his skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine, but he has also refused to confirm his vaccination status publicly. In recent months, Australia’s vaccine requirements prompted Djokovic’s father to say his son would likely not play there. On Tuesday, Djokovic announced that he had been granted an exemption to compete in Melbourne after all. Tournament and state health officials confirmed the development.
Many Australians are furious that an elite athlete whose fitness is legendary and who holds or shares many of the top records in tennis is seemingly flouting their rules by claiming a special medical condition. The federal government says more than 91.6% of Australians age 16 and older are fully vaccinated.
“We have been taken for fools,” said Kevin Bartlett, the Australian rules football legend and broadcaster.
Others said that giving a special exemption to Djokovic sends a message that undercuts vaccination drives and shows a lack of respect — for anyone who is vulnerable and for those fighting the global pandemic, as Australia’s ABC reports.
When Djokovic arrives in Australia, any exemption he’s granted by medical professionals “will have to stack up,” Morrison said.
The prime minister added that while the amount of scrutiny on Djokovic is unusual, he isn’t alone in seeking a vaccine exemption. In the past two years, he said, many other people have shown proof that they qualify for the accommodation.
“So the circumstance is not unique,” Morrison said. “The issue is whether he has sufficient evidence to support that he would qualify for that exemption.”
This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.