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Tennis Australia has announced its official Covid-19 vaccination protocols for the 2022 Australian Open, with a key reveal about the process for players seeking medical exemptions.
The governing body has finalised the process in conjunction with the Victorian Department of Health, releasing the official protocols on Friday.
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Significantly, the process will include redacting personal information to ensure privacy for all applicants, meaning the names of any players who seek exemptions will remain a secret.
That means tennis fans and fellow players will never know if Novak Djokovic required a medical exemption if he ends up defending his Australian Open crown at Melbourne Park next month.
Not unless the World No.1 reveals so himself.
The nine-time champion has repeatedly refused to reveal his vaccination status, and the Serb's father recently claimed his superstar son "probably wouldn't" be at the Open unless the vaccination rules were relaxed.
Under an independent process, applications for a medical exemption will first be reviewed by an expert panel made up of doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice.
Applications that meet the national guidelines set by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) will then be subject to a second review, conducted by a government-appointed panel of medical experts, the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel.
If an exemption is deemed valid in line with the ATAGI guidelines, the medical exemption will be submitted to the Australian Immunisation Register.
No panellists will ever know the identity of any player seeking an exemption.
On Friday, Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley reaffirmed that all players, fans and staff at the Open must be fully vaccinated, unless there was a genuine reason why an exemption should be granted.
"Central to this process is that the decisions will be made by independent medical experts and that every applicant gets due consideration," Tiley said.
Last week, Tiley said no player, including Djokovic, had received a medical exemption to compete at the Open.
Former Open director Paul McNamee this week claimed reports of Djokovic wanting a medical exemption were "concocted" and "fantasy".
"Why would he apply for one? He is the healthiest guy in the world," McNamee told Sportsday Radio in Melbourne.
Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas are both on the Australian Open entry list.
Serena Williams is NOT. pic.twitter.com/Ob4xhuMor6
— The Tennis Podcast (@TennisPodcast) December 8, 2021
Players pull out of Australian Open over vaccination protocols
Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert, a five-times grand slam doubles champion, and Australian teenage ace Olivia Gadecki, have both ruled themselves out of the Open after choosing not to get vaccinated.
Victorian sports minister Martin Pakula said on Friday he hoped a fully-vaccinated Djokovic would be at the Open.
"If he chooses not to get vaccinated, and he's not eligible for a medical exemption, then he won't," Pakula said.
Pakula rejected suggestions the government had passed the buck and given TA too much power in the medical exemption process, having been adamant for months that no players would be allowed into Melbourne Park unless fully vaccinated.
"It's not for me or the premier or any other politician to determine if someone's claim of effectively medical inability to be vaccinated is a valid one," he said.
"That's a decision that's got to be verified by medical professionals and I think the public might be rightly concerned if it was just a single doctor making that call.
"But that's why a three-person panel followed by a review panel, making sure that any claim is verified, I think, is the appropriate process.
"I don't think you can really do much more than that."
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews previously said it was important for TA to take the lead.
“I think it is important that if Tennis Australia do move to a situation where they want to check the bona fides of any exemption – and I’m not talking about any individual – anyone who has an exemption, then that’s an appropriate safeguard," he said.
“Everyone sitting on centre court will have to be double jabbed. Out of fairness to them, out of respect for so many Victorians, [with what] the vast majority of Victorians have done, we have to have confidence in these arrangements.
“Tennis Australia have a role in protecting the integrity of these arrangements.”
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