The world number one is now in a refugee detention hotel and will have to stay there over the weekend after his visa was rejected by border officials. The 34-year-old Serb announced on Tuesday he was given the exemption by two independent medical panels organised by Tennis Australia and Victoria state. While he thought this would shield him from the country’s strict vaccine rules, border force said Djokovic failed to meet entry requirements.
Prof Jonathan Ives, from the University of Bristol, said: “The Australian government is entirely correct to apply their policy consistently.
“This is not at all about whether or not one agrees with vaccines or vaccine mandates, or even about famous sports personalities setting a ‘good’ example. It is about the rights and wrongs of making exceptions to rules.
“These rules should apply to everyone equally, and exceptions can and should only be made for relevant reasons, according to fixed and transparent criteria.
“Exceptions to an actual vaccine mandate would have to be based on morally relevant criteria, and might only be justified if, for example, a person has a legitimate medical exemption.”
While Djokovic has appealed the decision to reject his visa, these are not the only questions that have been raised about the approval of the exemption.
The Sydney Morning Herald published letters sent in November from the Department of Health and the health minister to Tennis Australia.
These showed that Djokovic didn’t meet the standard for quarantine-free entry, as defined by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
The letters indicate that a Covid infection within the past six months is not enough to receive an exemption, unless the individual has been vaccinated.
Prof Ives said: “But this kind of exemption is only really relevant for people who have no choice but to engage in activities for which the vaccine is mandated.
“If I have no meaningful choice but to move to Australia, and if vaccines are mandatory to get in, it is reasonable to ask to be exempt if taking the vaccine would put my health at risk.
“But this not what we are talking about here. Even if Mr Djokovic has a legitimate medical reason for not taking the vaccine, that does not mean he should be entitled entry into a country that requires vaccination.”
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While Serbian star has not officially disclosed his COVID-19 vaccination status, he has voiced his opposition to jabs in the past.
In April 2020, even before vaccines for coronavirus were available, Djokovic said he was “opposed to vaccination”.
But he did later state that he was “no expert” and would keep an “open mind”.
He said he wanted to have “an option to choose what’s best for my body.”
But regardless of his stance on vaccines, Prof Ives said that nobody is “making” Djokovic take the vaccine.
He said: “Mr Djokovic does not have to enter the country, he merely wants to. Nobody is making him enter Australia, and nobody is making him take a vaccine.
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“He has a choice, and can make that choice freely, according to what it most important to him. He might not think that is good choice to have to make, and he clearly wants to avoid having to make it – but few of us have the privilege of deciding what choices we are confronted with.”
“Mr Djokovic’s entry into Australia, so far as I can see, would only really benefit him and, great as it is to see the world’s best players competing, supporting public health and avoiding setting dangerous precedents should surely take priority.
“It is not vital, or arguably even important in any meaningful sense, that he – or any other individual – plays in this tournament. This is, to my mind, an example of a privileged person demanding exceptionalism, and it should rightly be refused.”
An Australian Border Force statement read: “The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements.
“The ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled.
“Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia. The ABF can confirm Mr Djokovic had access to his phone.”