'Completely legitimate': Aus Open boss defends Novak Djokovic exemption

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Pictured right, Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley arm in arm with Novak Djokovic.
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley says Novak Djokovic was not given preferential treatment to compete at the Australian Open in 2022. Pic: Getty

Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley has brushed aside criticism of Novak Djokovic's medical exemption after insisting the World No.1 was not given preferential treatment to compete at Melbourne Park.

After months of uncertainty, the nine-time champion finally confirmed his participation in the year's first grand slam, all but confirming the long-standing rumours that he is unvaccinated.

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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.

Officials said a very small percentage of players would be granted an exemption to compete without being vaccinated, provided they had valid medical grounds as determined by an independent panel of medical experts.

Taking to social media on Tuesday night, Djokovic confirmed that he had been granted "permission" to compete at Melbourne Park, without going into details about what grounds he qualified for an exemption.

The news sparked angry backlash on social media, with many criticising TA and the Victorian government for jumping through hoops to accomodate the premier player in men's tennis - despite Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews repeatedly insisting that would not be the case.

Defending the decision to grant the 34-year-old an exemption, TA boss Tiley said the nine-time title-holder met the strict guidelines set by the federal government advisory group ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) with Open organisers not involved in the process.

Novak Djokovic cleared by medical experts

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.

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.

Pictured here, Novak Djokovic holds the Australian Open trophy he won for the ninth time in 2021.
Novak Djokovic's medical exemption to compete at the Australian Open has sparked plenty of backlash. Pic: Getty

"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.

with AAP

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