Novak Djokovic

Spain urges Djokovic to set an example and get vaccinated

Spain urges Djokovic to set an example and get vaccinated

BACK HOME. Novak Djokovic returns to a hero's welcome in his native Serbia.

Diego Fedele/REUTERS

Novak Djokovic travels regularly to Spain where he not only competes but also owns a house in a southern resort

MADRID, Spain – Tennis star Novak Djokovic should set an example and get vaccinated against COVID-19, Spanish government spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez said on Tuesday, January 18, when asked if he should be allowed to compete in Spain where vaccination is not mandatory.

The world No. 1 was deported from Australia on Sunday ahead of the Australian Open after entering the country unvaccinated on a medical exemption.

“What Mr. Djokovic has to do is get vaccinated, that would be the most sensible thing to do,” Rodriguez told a news conference.

“Leading by example is important and this is indeed what our country’s great sportsmen and women do. For example, Mr. (Rafael) Nadal,” she added, referring to one of Djokovic’s great rivals with whom he is tied on 20 major titles.

Even though vaccination is not mandatory in Spain, the vaccination rate is one of the highest in Europe.

Djokovic travels regularly to Spain where he owns a house in the southern resort of Marbella. He spent a few days there in late December and early January and video footage showed him training there.

Spanish rules currently require people to present either a vaccine certificate, a negative PCR test or a certificate of having recovered from COVID-19 to enter the country, so Djokovic should be able to compete in the Mutua Madrid Open between April 26 and May 8. He tested positive for COVID-19 in December.

Madrid has no specific coronavirus-related rules for taking part in sporting events.

France has said he would be barred from playing the French Open in May as things stand because of a new vaccine pass law.

Djokovic is now in his native Serbia, where he received a hero’s welcome. 

‘Our champion’

Djokovic returned to a rapturous welcome in Serbia on Monday after Australia deported the world men’s tennis No. 1 for being unvaccinated against COVID-19, a stance jeopardizing his quest for a record 21st Grand Slam title.

Most Australians had wanted him gone, but Serbian fans cheered and waved national flags as Djokovic touched down at Belgrade airport then headed to his own apartment.

“You are our champion, Novak!” and “We love you, Nole!” they chanted, using an affectionate diminutive.

The 34-year-old “King of Melbourne” had won nine previous Australia Opens, is level with Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer on 20 titles, and was top men’s seed for the tournament that got underway on Monday.

But instead of beginning his title defense as scheduled at Melbourne Park, he flew to Belgrade via Dubai after being twice detained in a hotel with asylum-seekers and then unceremoniously booted out by Australian immigration.

“Whoever wins it now, doesn’t really count,” said Alek Drakoo, a member of the Australian Serbian community, disappointed to miss seeing him in Melbourne.

The Australian government’s decision was in tune with majority public opinion, but authorities drew flak for the chaotic handling of the issue.

“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and the tournament I love,” Djokovic said, expressing disappointment but respect for a court decision against him.

Back to Australia?

Under Australian law, he cannot return for three years unless the immigration minister accepts there are compelling or compassionate reasons. Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted there may be a way to let him in next year.

“There is the opportunity for (a person) to return in the right circumstances, and that will be considered at the time,” he told 2GB radio.

Australia’s Federal Court ruling to uphold the cancellation of Djokovic’s visa – originally granted on a medical exemption as he recently had COVID-19 – dismayed his family and supporters who portray him as a persecuted underdog.

“I think he entered history as a hero, as a man and as a fighter against this evil which is called corona-circus,” said Marko Strugalovic, 60, at Belgrade airport.

Djokovic was first detained by immigration authorities on January 6, ordered released by a court on January 10 and then detained again on Saturday before Sunday’s court hearing.

He wore a mask and took selfies with fans on transit in Dubai but avoided fans and media at Belgrade airport, going straight to his apartment in the Novi Beograd district.

Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had said Djokovic could be a threat to public order because his presence would encourage anti-vaccination sentiment.

His case has stoked a global debate over the rights to decline vaccination as authorities around the world push that as the main route out of the two-year-old pandemic that has killed 5.5 million people. –