In an on-camera interview with the BBC, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic said he is willing to skip playing in the French Open or Wimbledon because of his vaccination stance.
Djokovic became embroiled in controversy earlier this year after attempting to enter Australia without a valid vaccination exemption.`The 20-time grand slam champion was later deported, missing out on an opportunity to play in the Australian Open.
Before the tennis season’s first grand slam Djokovic was tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer with 20 grand slam singles titles. With Djokovic absent, Nadal went on to win the Australian Open, giving him 21 major singles titles – the most all-time in men’s tennis.
Djokovic told the BBC, which labeled the interview as an exclusive with the 34-year-old Serbian, that he has not received any vaccination for Covid-19.
“I was never against vaccination,” Djokovic told the BBC. “I understand that globally, everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus and seeing, hopefully, an end soon to this virus.”
Djokovic said in the BBC interview that he understands the consequences of his decision to not get vaccinated, explaining that: “I understand that not being vaccinated today I’m unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment.”
“And that’s a price you’re willing to pay?” the BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan asked Djokovic.
“That is the price that I’m willing to pay,” Djokovic replied.
Rajan then asked Djokovic: “Ultimately, are you prepared to forgo the chance to be the greatest player to ever picked up a racquet statistically because you feel so strongly about this jab?”
“Yes,” Djokovic said. “I do.”
When asked why, Djokovic responded: “Because the principles of 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 possibly can.”
CNN has reached out to tournament organizers for the French Open and Wimbledon for comment.
Australian Open saga
Djokovic landed in Melbourne on January 5, only to be placed in temporary detention with his visa canceled because he did not have a valid medical exemption for the vaccination requirement for all arrivals.
Djokovic’s team argued the 34-year-old tennis star was under the impression he could enter the country because he had received a medical exemption from the tournament organizers, which had been granted on the grounds that he had natural immunity after being infected with Covid-19 in December.
Under Australian law, medical exemptions are only given to people who can prove they’ve suffered anaphylaxis after a previous dose, or any component of a vaccine, or are significantly immunocompromised. Djovokic didn’t fit either category.
The following week, a judge quashed the government’s decision to cancel his visa and ordered him to be freed, allowing Djokovic to resume training for the Australian Open.
However, in another twist just days before the tournament began, Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke chose to cancel Djokovic’s visa again, and the player was put back in detention.
Hawke argued that Djokovic posed a risk to public health and order, and could encourage anti-vax protests, which could aid the spread of Covid-19.
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During the two-week period when all this unfolded, both supporters and critics of Djokovic took to the streets of Melbourne – some protesting that his release made a mockery of the sacrifices Australians have made to contain Covid, others arguing he had a right to compete.
Djokovic’s legal challenge failed the second time around, with three Federal Court judges unanimously dismissing his application, saying Hawke’s argument was not irrational. Djokovic left the country soon after.