Novak Djokovic says he’s not against vaccination but would rather miss out on tennis trophies than being forced to get a Covid vaccine.
The 20-times Grand Slam winner was deported from Australia last month after the government cancelled his visa in a row over his vaccine status which saw his rival Rafael Nadal won the Australian Open, a record of 21st career Grandslam – the highest in tennis in Melbourne last month.
Despite this, the world’s number one men’s tennis player has reiterated that he will not defend his Wimbledon or French Open titles if the tournaments require mandatory vaccination for competitors.
Speaking exclusively to the BBC, his first interview he was detained in Melbourne in January, Djokovic addressed speculation about the timing of his positive Covid case in December and discussed his own attitude towards the vaccine.
“I was never against vaccination,” he told the BBC, confirming that he’d had vaccines as a child, “but I’ve always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
He went further, ” everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus and seeing, hopefully, an end soon to this virus.”
When asked whether he would sacrifice taking part in competitions such as Wimbledon and the French Open over his stance on the vaccine.
“Yes, that is the price that I’m willing to pay,” he said.
“I say that everybody has the right to choose or act or say or feel whatever is appropriate for them.”
“Because 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.
The 20-times Grand Slam winner was deported from Australia last month over visa issues despite he had obtained a medical exemption to enter the country to play in the Australian Open as he had recently recovered from Covid-19
What happened to Djokovic in Australia?
The 34-year-old Serb – a nine-time Australian Open champion – was deported after an 11-day rollercoaster involving two visa cancellations, two court challenges and five nights in two stints at an immigration detention hotel where asylum seekers are held.
He was originally granted a medical exemption to enter Australia by Tennis Australia and the state government of Victoria – after testing positive for coronavirus in mid-December.
Djokovic had his visa revoked on arrival in Melbourne, but he won a court appeal against that cancellation, which allowed him to remain in Australia.
He later acknowledged that his travel declaration was incorrect because it failed to indicate that he had been in multiple countries in the two-week period before his arrival in Australia.
He accepted the ruling before flying home to Serbia but however was said about the decision.
“I was really sad and disappointed with the way it all ended for me in Australia,” he said. “It wasn’t easy.”
His medical exemption request was made anonymously, and it was accepted by two independent Australian panels.
However there was a separate travel declaration, which included an error.
“Absolutely, the visa declaration error was not deliberately made,” Djokovic said.
“It was accepted and confirmed by the Federal Court and the minister himself in the Ministry for Immigration in Australia.
“So actually, what people probably don’t know is that 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. 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 Serbian is set to return to action at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which begin on February 21.