How did Novak Djokovic get a medical exemption to play the Australian Open?

Decision to grant world No 1 exemption without being vaccinated against Covid-19 has caused widespread anger

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The decision to grant Novak Djokovic a medical exemption to allow him to defend his Australian Open title without being vaccinated against Covid-19 has caused widespread anger.

So what was behind the decision to make an exemption for the world No 1?

Who got an exemption?

According to Australian Open boss Craig Tiley, the Serb is among a handful of players and support staff who have been granted a vaccine exemption allowing them to enter the country to take part in the year's first Grand Slam.

But the medical reason for the vaccine-sceptic player obtaining the exemption has not been revealed.

"In this case an exemption was granted on grounds which are personal medical information, which we do not receive," Tiley told Australia's Channel Nine television on Wednesday.

"It is up to that applicant to disclose what those grounds were."

How does it work?

In total 26 players and support staff applied for exemptions, Tiley revealed.

Each case was examined by two panels in a system set up in agreement with the Victorian state government, with players' identities hidden from the medical panels.

A first panel of doctors decided whether applications abided by the exemption guidance of the government's Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

If they qualified, they were then examined by a second government-appointed panel of medical experts.

Government officials in Victoria state, which hosts the Australian Open, had been adamant for months that only vaccinated players would be able to play the tournament.

What illnesses are included?

These are the key reasons ATAGI sets out for allowing a temporary exemption from Australia's Covid-19 vaccine requirements:

  • Proof by PCR test that you have already had a Covid-19 infection. This allows you to defer vaccination for six months after the infection.
  • A "major medical condition" such as major surgery or hospitalisation for a serious illness.
  • A "serious adverse event" to a previous Covid-19 vaccination, for example a reaction that is life-threatening or requires hospitalisation - if there is no acceptable alternative vaccine available.
  • People who are a risk to themselves or others during the vaccination process, for example because of a mental health disorder.
  • For vaccines such as Pfizer or Moderna, proof of an inflammatory cardiac illness within the past three months.

What has been the reaction?

Public reaction to the news of Djokovic's exemption was overwhelmingly hostile. Stephen Parnis, a former vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, said the decision was appalling. “I don't care how good a tennis player he is. If he's refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn't be allowed in,” Parnis tweeted.

Tennis players tried to be diplomatic, with rising Australian star Alex de Minaur keeping his response short during a press conference after his ATP Cup match.

"It's very interesting. That's all I'm going to say," de Minaur said.

Tiley said he could understand people being "completely upset" at the news of Djokovic's exemption but insisted the 20-time Grand Slam champion had not been given special treatment.

Anyone meeting the guidelines, including through proof of a recent Covid infection, was allowed to enter Australia, Tiley said.

"So there has been no special favour, there has been no special opportunity granted to Novak," he added.

Updated: January 07, 2022, 12:22 PM