Novak Djokovic will be able to defend his 2021 Australian Open title after all.
In an Instagram post, Djokovic revealed on Tuesday that he has received a medical exemption and will be competing at the Australian Open despite not being vaccinated against COVID-19. Rules in Melbourne and the Australian state of Victoria require all players, staff, and spectators to be fully vaccinated in order to participate or attend, but there is a process set up to allow people to apply for a medical exemption to that policy.
“Djokovic applied for a medical exemption, which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts,” Tennis Australia said in a statement. “One of those was the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel appointed by the Victorian Department of Health. They assessed all applications to see if they met the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization guidelines.”
There was no explanation given for why the medical exemption was granted. Tennis Australia doesn't require players to reveal their exemption status, and wouldn't have released a statement if Djokovic hadn't posted about it on Instagram first.
In December, Victoria education minister James Merlino made it clear that the medical exemption rules were strict and serious, and were not a way for anti-vaccine tennis players to gain entry to the tournament.
“My view on this is is really clear and really simple. Everyone’s looking forward to the Australian Open and everyone who will attend — spectators, players, officials, staff — is expected to be fully vaccinated.
“They’re the rules. Medical exemptions are just that — it’s not a loophole for privileged tennis players. It is a medical exemption in exceptional circumstances if you have an acute medical condition."
Djokovic has declined to reveal his vaccination status and has been publicly against vaccine mandates. In November, his father called Victoria's public health protocols "blackmail" and said that he didn't think his son would be competing at the Australian Open due to his stance on the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Australian Open begins Jan. 17.