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Vic Govt, Tennis Australia defend Djokovic exemption

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The Victorian Government and Tennis Australia insist Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic hasn’t been treated differently to any other player after he received a medical exemption from vaccination to play in the tournament.

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Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley says the nine-time title-holder and world No.1 met the strict guidelines set by the federal government advisory group ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation), and Open organisers were not involved in the process.

Tiley told 3AW there were 26 anonymous applications made by players or their support staff for an exemption with only a “handful” granted.

“Most haven’t, 75 to 80 per cent of those that apply for medical exemption, it was not granted,” Tiley said on Wednesday morning.

The Victorian Government also insisted Djokovic did not receive special treatment.

“No-one is or will be receiving special treatment because of who they are or what they have achieved professionally,” acting sports minister Jaala Pulford said.

“I think lots of people in the Victorian community will find this to be a disappointing outcome, but the process is the process. Nobody has had special treatment.”

She said the applications were de-identified and the process was conducted anonymously.

“What Novak – his experience and that of a handful of others who have applied through this process – has demonstrated, is the ability to satisfy not just the commonwealth government’s requirement for entry but something well above and beyond that,” she said.

Djokovic took to social media on Tuesday night to announce he was on his way to Australia after being granted the exemption.

“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022,” he posted on Instagram.

The Serbian superstar had repeatedly refused to disclose his vaccination status after the Victorian government mandated only fully vaccinated players, fans and staff would be allowed into Melbourne Park.

Tiley said Djokovic was assessed by two separate independent panels of medical experts and was granted the exemption due to a legitimate medical condition, which the player hasn’t made public.

“If I want to come as an international visitor and I’m not vaccinated, and I meet those guidelines, any medical practitioner can can grant me an exemption and add my name to the immunisation register,” Tiley said.

“And then I’m able to come in as an unvaccinated individual, so it’s not just Novak.

“He went through that process and it’s completely legitimate application and process.”

Tiley said the process was more rigorous for players, who had their anonymous application assessed by an independent panel and if that initial panel felt it required further review there was a separate medical panel to do so.

“Every application was reviewed anonymously, no one knew whose application was received by whom they looked at purely on the grounds of the conditions that were set medically by the government,” Tiley said.

The Open boss said he wasn’t aware of Djokovic’s grounds for exemption from vaccination.

One possibility is that Djokovic has contracted COVID-19 within the past six months which would make him exempt.

“The only way we could access that information is if an individual decides to share it,” Tiley said.

-AAP

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