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Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley says a 'small percentage' of unvaccinated 'tennis professionals' will be allowed to enter Melbourne Park thanks to medical exemptions for the Australian Open in January.
Vaccination rates among professional tennis players have been a hot topic ever since it was announced that players would be required to be protected against Covid-19 in order to be permitted to play at the season-opening grand slam next year.
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No players have yet informed tournament organisers that they are planning to or have already obtained a medical exemption.
Much speculation continues to focus around whether or not men's World No.1 Novak Djokovic will play in the tournament, with the Serbian champion's vaccination status uncertain.
The 36-year-old has repeatedly stated he considers his choice to be vaccinated or not to be a private one.
Additionally, the medical exemption requirements agreed to between tournament organisers and the Victorian Department of Health mean that the privacy of players granted an exemption will be protected.
This means that if Djokovic plays at Melbourne Park, it will be at his discretion whether he says he obtained an exemption of if he has been vaccinated.
Tiley said on Wednesday that the decision for Djokovic to be vaccinated would always remain 'his choice'.
“The great thing is that everyone [coming to Australia] is vaccinated,” said Tiley.
“Everyone who is coming in is vaccinated and there will be a small percentage – a very small percentage – that will have a medical exemption.
“So if any player, fan [or] workforce is on site here – you’re either vaccinated or you have a medical exemption that’s approved and you’re on the Australian Immunisation Register.
“That provides us with safety and an extra level of comfort on site.”
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Negotiations between Australian tennis officials and the Victorian government concluded last week when the two parties agreed on the measures to be put in place for the grand slam.
Significantly, the process around exemptions will include redacting personal information to ensure privacy for all applicants, meaning the names of any players who seek exemptions will remain a secret.
Nine-time champion Djokovic 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.
Tiley recently said no player, including Djokovic, had received a medical exemption to compete at the Open.
Former Open director Paul McNamee last 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.
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