Novak Djokovic is no stranger to controversy. Despite having come to dominate the sport of tennis with flourishes on the court that make his name revered amongst the likes of Federer and Nadal, the Serbian rarely receives the same treatment from the crowd as his colleagues. Outspoken and at times, confrontational, Djokovic is known to be a divisive sportsman and after the more recent saga in Australia over his vaccination status and medical exemption, he’s causing an even greater stir with repercussions to be felt around the world.
In an exclusive interview with the BBC, the star revealed that he is not vaccinated against Covid-19, but will continue to miss future tournaments in order to avoid being vaccinated. When asked if he had been vaccinated, Djokovic simply responded: “I have not.” When asked if he was willing to miss the likes of the French Open and Wimbledon, he said: “Yes.”
It’s a significant statement to come from the star, who was on track to make history at the 2022 Australian Open and potentially become the first player to win 21 Grand Slams. That career-defining moment instead went to long-time rival Nadal, who entered the history books with his win over Daniil Medvedev. With Djokovic continuing to sit out, he will miss the opportunity to become statistically the greatest male tennis player in history. “That’s the price I’m willing to pay,” he said. “Because the principles of the 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 can. I’ve always been a great student of wellness, wellbeing, health, nutrition.”
Djokovic emphasised that he is not anti-vaxx, and as a result he may get the jab at some point in the future. He also stressed that he was not against the vaccine as a solution to the Covid-19 pandemic. “I was never against vaccination. I understand and support fully the freedom to choose whether you want to get vaccinated or not, and I have not spoken about this before and I have not disclosed my medical record and my vaccination status because I had the right to keep that private and discreet,” he explained.
“But as I see there is a lot of wrong conclusions and assumptions out there, I think it’s important to speak up about that and justify certain things. I understand that globally everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus and seeing, hopefully, an end to this virus, and vaccination was probably the biggest effort. Probably half of the world was vaccinated. And I fully respect that. I keep my mind open because we’re all trying to find collectively a best possible solution to Covid. No-one really wants to be in this kind of situation we’ve been in collectively for two years.”
When asked if he was comfortable being used as a symbol of the anti-vaccination movement, Djokovic said, “I say that everyone has the right to choose, to act or say whatever they feel is appropriate for them, and I have never said I’m a part of that movement.”
Djokovic also addressed the saga that occurred here in Australia, where he was offered entry into the Australian Open on a medical exemption, causing widespread anger amongst Australians who had endured some of the harshest lockdown restrictions of anyone in the world, and who continue to be separated from loved ones and family overseas. “I sympathise with all the people, and I understand there has been lots of frustrations from Australians towards me and towards the entire situation and the way it was dealt with, and I understand it as well.”
He was eventually deported on discretionary grounds by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke who feared the star’s influence could stoke the fire that was an ever-growing anti-vaccination sentiment. “I was ready not to go to Australia,” said Djokovic. “As much as I love the country and always look forward to going to the Australian summer and participating in the Australian Open, it was a very difficult decision for me because I understood that with the decision that I made there’s going to be consequences, and that consequence is me not going to Australia, and I was ready. I agree that there shouldn’t be any special rules. I never used my privileged status to get into Australia by force or do anything int he entire process. I was treated as anybody else,” he continued.
“”We were following the rules and when there was a possibility for a medical exemption, I was using that, and I applied and put forward my PCR test and sufficient amount of antibodies I had at the time and I got accepted and approved by two independent Australian medical panels anonymously.
“I think that’s important to mention. My name was not on the application. Neither was anyone else who applied for medical exemption.
“The reason I was deported from Australia was because the Minister for Immigration used his discretional right to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create some anti-vaxx sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with.”
As for where he stands currently with the vaccine, while Djokovic said he would potentially consider changing his mind in the future, he would continue to refuse the shot “as of today.”
“I keep my mind open, so there is always a possibility things will change in the future,” he said. “As of today, this is my decision and my stance. I will suffer the consequences of not travelling to the tournaments, but hopefully things will change in the future and I keep my mind open and we’ll see what happens.”