Australian Open Up In The Air As Host Nation Remains Divided Over Vaccinations

The Australian Open is just under three months away and there is still doubt over what is going to happen
18:05, 27 Oct 2021

The Australian Open is just under three months away and there is still doubt over what is going to happen with the Grand Slam, as the host nation remains divided on allowing unvaccinated athletes to take part. 

There is a contradicting argument within the nation as the Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, has made clear his government will not apply for exemptions for unvaccinated players travelling from overseas to compete at the tournament. Andrews has opposed the ruling of Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who indicated that players who had not been vaccinated would still be able to come and compete, but after a two-week quarantine. 

This will be an internal matter that will continue to escalate over the coming weeks as the two politicians differ in view, but there will need to be some clarity soon with the Grand Slam fast approaching. 

Addressing the current situation, Andrews said: “What I want to make very clear is that the state of Victoria will not be applying for any exemptions for unvaccinated players.

“I’m not applying for any exemptions for any unvaccinated players. So we don’t apply for an exemption, then no exemption will be granted. And then the whole issue is basically resolved.

“I’m not going to actually require people sitting in the grandstand, or people working at the event, to be vaccinated while players aren’t, so we’re not going to be applying for an exemption.”

This casts doubt over the men’s world number one Novak Djokovic, who would be in contention to win his fourth consecutive Australian Open title - a record in the Open Era. In April 2020, amidst the peak of the pandemic, the Serbian made it clear he had no intention of receiving a vaccine against the virus. “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,” he said.

NovakDjokovicAustralianOpen20212jpgjpg

“But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I’ll have to make a decision. I have my own thoughts about the matter and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know.”

It seems as though his stance hasn’t changed. The 34-year-old was very hesitant to reveal his vaccination status earlier this month. Speaking to Serbian newspaper Blic, he said: “Things being as they are, I still don’t know if I will go to Melbourne.

“I will not reveal my status whether I have been vaccinated or not, it is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry.

“Of course I want to go, Australia is my most successful Grand Slam tournament. I want to compete, I love this sport and I am still motivated.

“People go too far these days in taking the liberty to ask questions and judge a person. Whatever you say ‘yes, no, maybe, I am thinking about it’, they will take advantage.”

If the state of Victoria maintains their current stance on the situation as the Australian Open gets closer, there will be a standoff with the unvaccinated players. It will turn into a scenario where the ones who hold their nerve will prevail. A growing concern for the tournament would be if some of the big names like Djokovic are refused from taking part, there could be a damaging effect on revenue streams. 

There is likely to be a dramatic drop in interest if the best player in the world is not competing. It feels very similar to the situation with the Rugby League World Cup earlier this year. The tournament was reluctantly pushed back to 2022 after two of the biggest competitors, Australia and New Zealand, pulled out. However, this would likely not be an option for the Australian Open because of how hectic the tennis schedule is throughout the year.

With multiple sponsors partnered with the Grand Slam tournament, including Rolex and Emirates, if Andrews’ vaccination policy stands and key players were to miss out on next year’s tournament, the relationship between the tournament and the branded partners could be tarnished. They will not be happy if players like Djokovic were to miss out because the best players will bring in the most viewers and increase their exposure. 

It is of the utmost importance that Morrison and Andrews make a unanimous decision on the state of affairs for foreign players attending the first of next year’s Grand Slams quickly because the longer that it is shrouded in doubt, there is a growing risk of an underwhelming competition.

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