'Suck it up': Vaccine battle looms ahead of Australian Open

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·Sports Reporter
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Tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic's anti-vaccination stance could be put to the test next year, with the Victorian state government to consider mandatory vaccines for visiting international athletes.` (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)
Tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic's anti-vaccination stance could be put to the test next year, with the Victorian state government to consider mandatory vaccines for visiting international athletes.` (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley reportedly urged the Victorian government to hold off on a vaccine mandate for athletes, for fear it would turn away top tier players such as Novak Djokovic.

The Victorian government introduced a sweeping vaccine requirement for authorised workers on Friday, which will require workers across a wide range of industries to be fully vaccinated by mid-November in order to return to work.

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The mandate includes the sporting industry, with Victorian AFL, NRL, A-League and Super Netball clubs among other professional sports also subject to the order.

Friday's announcement came as no surprise to Tiley who, according to The Age, had been lobbying the government against the move for fear it would discourage the likes of Djokovic from attending.

The Serbian world No.1, who won the 2021 Australian Open, has previously gone on record saying he is 'opposed' to vaccination.

Djokovic's vaccination status remains unknown, but the 34-year-old has never said he has received a jab.

The Age's report cited anonymous sources with knowledge of the conversation, who said Tiley had made the case against the move before relenting as the likes of the AFL and MCC voiced their support behind closed doors.

“Tiley said we won’t get star players and the state government effectively said ‘suck it up’,” the source said. 

“They capitulated.”

In April, 2020, Djokovic stated: "Personally I'm opposed to vaccination, and I wouldn't want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel."

Conversations around vaccines will come as no surprise to high-profile players, with Scottish fan favourite Andy Murray tipping the Australian Open would be a crucial juncture in the debate as recently as August.

Following his loss at the US Open, Murray conceded 'a lot of the tour is unvaccinated', before he predicted vaccinated player would be granted much greater freedom of movement in Melbourne than unvaccinated counterparts.

It remains to be seen whether Australia's borders will re-open to travellers who have not been inoculated against Covid-19.

While Djokovic is the highest-profile athlete in the world who has been vocal about vaccinations, the requirements could also affect cricketers.

Australian Open, international cricket vaccine status still unclear

Australian tennis coach Craig O’Shannessy, who worked with Djokovic from 2017 to 2019, said vaccination mandates for players was the 'right move'.

He said the Australian Open was well within its rights to set requirements for participants, just as it would be Djokovic's right not to attend.

“It’s Novak’s decision if he wants to get vaccinated. It’s his choice to participate in the Open if there is a mandate,” he said.

The Ashes is set to start on December 8 and the famous Boxing Day Test set to go ahead.

This would require all English players, staff and families to be vaccinated.

Novak Djokovic has previously gone on the record about his anti-vaccination stance. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Novak Djokovic has previously gone on the record about his anti-vaccination stance. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

A Victorian Government spokesperson told Yahoo Sport Australia that requirements for cricket players and Australian Open participants has yet to be determined.

“Vaccination requirements for international cricket players and Australian Open participants have not yet been settled," a spokesperson said.

“National Cabinet and the Commonwealth will set rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated international arrivals, consistent with the National Plan.”

“Other vaccination requirements for the Australian Open and other events will be considered by Public Health as required.”

“We continue to work with sporting bodies on arrangements for staging upcoming events.”

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