Summer here in Australia is one of sports. The season is as synonymous with the aroma of barbecued prawns and the chemical tang of SPF as it is of backyard cricket sessions and late night tennis viewing. As most of us are still finishing off the last remnants of that Christmas ham or turkey, the allure of watching the world’s greatest tennis stars compete on home soil is one we have not the means nor power to resist. And so the Australian Open has a special place for most of us: when everyone else is cramming everything they can into the month of January, making it chaotic with family dinners, catch-ups, and any other activity that suggests the new Year will be different, more productive, the Australian Open serves as respite.
But as states around Australia continue to grapple with the delta variant amid the global pandemic, it’s become clear that next year’s 2022 Australian Open will look very different. Not only because of social distancing restrictions that are likely still going to be in effect, but because it’s also going to see discussions around the vaccine mandate come to a head. We’re so used to seeing tennis’ big Four – Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray – take centre court that it’s almost something we take for granted, merely an assumed knowledge of their perpetual athletic prowess. But already, Djokovic has made it clear that his presence at the event seems uncertain as he declined to reveal his vaccination status.
In an interview, Djokovic explained: “Things being as they are, I still don’t know if I will go to Melbourne. I will not reveal my status whether I have been vaccinated or not, it is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry. People go too far these days in taking the liberty to ask questions and judge a person. Whatever you say, ‘yes, no, maybe, I am thinking about it’, they will take advantage.”
Many now estimate that a large contingent of players are unvaccinated, which could have a significant impact on the Australian Open. Federal government ministers Greg Hunt and Alex Hawke have made it clear that unvaccinated travellers will be prevented entry into the country. It’s reported that Australian Open officials have been locked into nightly online phone calls with the ATP and WTA Tours for several weeks as they outline possible scenarios. Some suggested unvaccinated players be subjected to serving a strict fortnight of hotel quarantine, amid other restrictions, before the competition. But it now looks like this won’t be possible.
Andy Murray was quick to realise the impact of Covid-19 on wider communities, and in late August the tennis star foreshadowed the difficulty that unvaccinated players will face in the future, particularly in relation to the Australian Open and touring in general. “The players that have been vaccinated are going to be having very different conditions to players who are not,” he said.
As Alex Hawke said on ABC radio, “The government in establishing its borders has said that you will need to be double vaccinated to visit Australia, that’s a universal application, not just for tennis players.”
Hawke added, “Our health advice is that when we open the borders everyone that comes to Australia will need to be double vaccinated. I don’t have a message for [Djokovic], I have a message to everybody who wishes to visit Australia – you will need to be double vaccinated.”