Novak Djokovic is once again at the centre of controversy after admitting he is not vaccinated against Covid-19 and has no plans to get the jab in order to play tennis tournaments.
'HE WAS ASKED': Nick Kyrgios truth emerges after Davis Cup 'snub'
Djokovic made the shock admission that he will not defend his Wimbledon or French Open titles if the tournaments require mandatory vaccination for competitors.
"Yes, that is the price that I'm willing to pay," he said when asked if he would sacrifice participating in the competitions.
"I say that everybody has the right to choose or act or say or feel whatever is appropriate for them."
The 20-time grand slam champion said he is willing to forego tournaments "because the principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else.
"I'm trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can," he added.
Djokovic also distanced himself from the anti-vaccination movement, despite being deported from Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open last month amid concerns about his vaccine status.
"I have never said I'm part of that movement," he said.
"It's really unfortunate that there has been this kind of misconception and wrong conclusion based upon something that I completely disagree with".
Djokovic told the BBC he was "keeping (his) mind open" to the possibility of getting vaccinated in the future "because we are all trying to find collectively, a best possible solution to end Covid".
"I was never against vaccination. I understand that globally, everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus and seeing, hopefully, an end soon to this virus," he said.
Tennis world reacts to Novak Djokovic bombshell
Reacting to Djokovic's interview, American tennis great Pam Shriver said she hoped the "right-trusted person" could talk to Djokovic and "walk him through all of the steps that make the science and the medicine trustworthy".
The five-time Wimbledon champion said Djokovic not getting vaccinated was "terrible for tennis".
British great Tim Henman, who sits on the All England Club committee, said he thinks it's unlikely Djokovic will be barred from playing at Wimbledon if he is unvaccinated.
But Henman conceded Djokovic "is certainly jeopardising his chances of being the greatest male player of all time".
"I think that speaks volumes to his courage, conviction and belief that this is what is best for him."
Professor James Calder, who helped re-open sporting and cultural events in the UK amid the pandemic, told the Evening Standard: “Personally I disagree with it and I think it’s the wrong decision.
“I’m pleased that he’s not promoting anti vaccine and he obviously feels incredibly strong because he’s willing to forgo potentially many tournaments ahead of him so he’s absolutely within his rights to make that decision.
“Personally I think he would be better off having the vaccine because the risks of Covid and the complications that can ensue after Covid in elite athletes are greater than the potential risks of having the vaccine.”
Reaction to Djokovic's interview was also fierce on social media.
British journalist Lucy Tobin tweeted: "Djokovic has no explanation about how he is opposed to the vaccine but is not an anti-vaxxer.
"He’s being promoted, barely challenged. He praises the global impact of vaccines - but thinks it’s up to ‘everyone else’ to have them. He’s a disgrace & BBC should limit his airtime."
Djokovic has no explanation about how he is opposed to the vaccine but is not an anti-vaxxer. He’s being promoted, barely challenged. He praises the global impact of vaccines - but thinks it’s up to ‘everyone else’ to have them. He’s a disgrace & BBC should limit his airtime.
— Lucy Tobin (@lucytobin) February 15, 2022
— Ryanair (@Ryanair) February 15, 2022
— Mark Gottlieb (@MarkGottlieb) February 15, 2022
Djokovic really said I'm not anti-vax I'm just against vaccines.
— David Kane (@DKTNNS) February 15, 2022
Djokovic, forever my hero. Now a disgrace. Absolutely gutted, what a catastrophe on all levels. Tito’s vaccination program in 1980 was miles ahead of its time. A malfeasance to the legacy of Yugoslavia 😣😔
— Jackie Quander (@jackie_quander) February 15, 2022
Disgusting wasn't it, especially as Djokovic was photographed without a mask at a function the day after receiveing a positive covid test?
There should be a separate section, for anything sport related, at the end of the programme.
— Janet 🇪🇺 🙏 😷 💙#WearAMask (@jbecole) February 15, 2022
Lead story on the lunchtime @BBCNews. A calm, smiling Djokovic being given extensive airtime to defend antivaxxers (he explicitly says "Everyone is entitled to make their own choices". This is disgusting and dangerous. The extent of coverage being given to his views is abhorrent.
— Hugh Smithson-Wright (@HRWright) February 15, 2022
The interview is a mistake. Unless the BBC were willing to go in hard and put him under pressure (didn’t happen, needed Emily Maitlis) then all that has occurred is that Djokovic continues his shameful mansplaining and claim for special treatment.
— Terry Mackie (@terrymac51) February 15, 2022
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.