Australia's border rules apply to everyone, including tennis stars: Karen Andrews

Men's tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic is due to land in Australia on Wednesday with a vaccine exemption to play in the Australian Open, but the Home Affairs minister says rules will not be bent for anyone.

Novak Djokovic will be playing in the 2022 Australian Open after receiving a vaccine exemption to enter Australia.

Novak Djokovic is expecting to play in the 2022 Australian Open. Source: AAP / , EPA

Rules on entry to Australia - which require people arriving from overseas to either be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or cite acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons - will not be bent for anyone, including famous tennis stars, Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews says.     

Ms Andrews' comments come as sports stars expressed their surprise Djokovic's entry to the 2022 Australian Open under a COVID-19 vaccine exemption. 

"Any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our strict border requirements," Ms Andrews said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. 

"While the Victorian Government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth Government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border.

"No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment."

This view was echoed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who told a press conference the tennis star will be treated like anyone else.

Mr Morrison said: "Novak Djokovic, when he arrives in Australia, I don't think you will be too far away ... if he is not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully vaccinated travellers.

"We await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that. If that evidence is insufficient, that he would be treated any different to anyone else."

The men's tennis world No. 1 announced on Instagram on Tuesday evening he will be playing in the tournament after he received confirmation of his 'exemption'.

The news has caused a public stir after Djokovic, 34, previously refused to disclose his vaccine status, and vocally expressed his opposition to vaccine mandates.

Australian tennis players James Duckworth and Alex De Minaur exchanged commentary at a press conference in Sydney for the ATP Cup after hearing the news, displaying surprise at the decision made by Tennis Australia (TA) and the Victorian government.

"Look, I don't know the criteria for exemptions. Yeah, apparently it's an independent panel. He must have fit the criteria," Duckworth said.

"That's very politically correct of you," De Minaur replied.

"I just think it's very interesting. That's all I'm going to say."

British doubles player Josh Murray implied the decision may not have been fair after being questioned on his views at the press conference.

"You know, I think if it was me that wasn't vaccinated I wouldn't be getting an exemption ... but well done to him for getting cleared to come to Australia and compete," he said.

The applications of vaccine exemptions from tennis players were reviewed by two separate panels.

The first panel assessed the applications per the guidelines set out by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

Djokovic has previously expressed his disapproval towards vaccine mandates.
Djokovic has previously expressed his disapproval towards vaccine mandates. Source: AAP / , AP

The guidelines put forward by ATAGI that warrant a medical exemption are narrow. They include if a person has a medical condition that could lead to an adverse reaction to the vaccine, if they have had major surgery, or if they have contracted COVID-19 in the past six months.

Then, in a move by the Victorian government to make the process more strenuous for the athletes, a second independent panel was instated, consisting of doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice.

AFL legend Kevin Bartlett expressed his scepticism of the decision, saying that "we have been taken for fools" on Twitter.

TA CEO Craig Tiley defended the process, insisting that TA and the government made it "extra difficult" for tennis players to enter the country.

"We, as an event, as a state and as a country will do everything we possibly can to give everyone an equal and fair opportunity to come into the country," he said on Wednesday morning.

"Tennis [Australia] has gone above and beyond what would normally be required for coming into the country."

"We're confident with what we've put forward."

Australian Open CEO Craig Tiley speaks to media in Melbourne, Wednesday, January 5, 2022. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett) NO ARCHIVING
Australian Open CEO Craig Tiley speaks to media in Melbourne. Source: AAP

Acting Victorian sports minister Minister Jaala Pulford admitted Victorians would find the outcome to allow Djokovic to enter the country and play at the Open as "frustrating and upsetting".

But she remained firm that the nine-time Grand Slam champion did not receive preferential treatment.

"I want to make absolutely clear that as has been the case the whole time, no one is receiving special treatment because of who they are or what they have achieved professionally," she said.

Mr Tiley said 26 athletes and support staff have also applied for a medical exemption to enter the country and only a "handful" of them have been granted.

The reasons behind vaccine exemption approval are confidential it is at the individuals' discretion, such as Djokovic, to publicly reveal them.

Touching on the backlash the news has caused, Mr Tiley said it would be "helpful" if Djokovic shared his reasons for the medical exemption.

"We would love ... Novak to talk about it and help us with it but ultimately it's going to be up to him,” he said.

"We aren't in a position, even legally, to disclose other people's medical information. I would encourage him to talk to the community about it ... we have been through a very tough period over the last two years and would appreciate some answers to that."

5 min read
Published 5 January 2022 at 12:52pm
By Rayane Tamer
Source: SBS