Was Novak Djokovic's medical exemption for Australian Open 2022 justified?

Semi Finals - Lexus At The Davis Cup Madrid 2021
Semi Finals - Lexus At The Davis Cup Madrid 2021

Novak Djokovic is yet again under scrutiny after revealing that he has received an exemption to play at the 2022 Australian Open. Djokovic's participation in Melbourne has been the subject of intense speculation over the last few weeks. On Tuesday, the World No. 1 put the rumors to rest by announcing that he was heading to Australia.

Novak Djokovic, a nine-time champion in Melbourne, recently took to Instagram to confirm that he would be defending his 2021 crown this year. That was followed by a statement from Tennis Australia, where they explained the process behind the World No. 1 successfully negotiating a medical exemption against being vaccinated.

Tennis Australia wrote that the exemption was greenlit following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts, one of which was directly appointed by the Victorian Department of Health.

Tennis Australia, however, came under fire on Twitter as the majority of the tennis universe took umbrage at both Novak Djokovic and Craig Tiley. Many fans even questioned the legitimacy of the Serb's exemption, considering his evaluation was of a classified nature.

Fans also lamented the fact that Djokovic applying for an exemption in the first place could likely mean that he is yet to be vaccinated. Not long ago, the Victorian government mandated that all athletes be fully vaccinated if they wanted entry into Melbourne.

However, authorities had confirmed that players with legitimate medical grounds would be exempt from the mandatory vaccination policy to compete at the 2022 Australian Open.

To discern whether Novak Djokovic truly warranted a medical exemption, we need to take a brief look at the health guidance published by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI), an advisory group to the Australian Government Department of Health.

Novak Djokovic's possible grounds for medical exemption

Semi Finals - Lexus At The Davis Cup Madrid 2021
Semi Finals - Lexus At The Davis Cup Madrid 2021

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI) has laid out the standard for both medical and non-medical exemptions from vaccination against COVID-19. The organization first lists all valid reasons for a temporary exemption, which includes inflammatory cardiac illness within the past three months, acute rheumatic fever, or a history of anaphylaxis.

It is safe to assume that Novak Djokovic hasn't been suffering from any of these acute major medical conditions, since he has been in incredible shape over the last year.

Another caveat given by the ATAGI with respect to medical exemptions is that vaccination can be deferred for up to six months in case an individual was very recently diagnosed with COVID-19. However, Novak Djokovic didn't show any physical signs of being infected with the dangerous virus since he first tested positive after the Adria Tour.

The organization also writes that individuals with underlying developmental or mental health disorders can exempt themselves from the vaccine. This does not apply to the 20-time Major champion either.

The ATAGI also lists the criteria for non-medical exemptions to enter Melbourne.

They claim that an individual can possibly be considered for an exemption by the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force if they are a foreign national either specially invited by the Australian Government or of national interest to the country, among other academic reasons.

For what it's worth, Djokovic is more likely to have availed a medical exemption than a non-medical one. Although the Serb is an elite athlete, it cannot be practically established that his vaccine hesitancy would be supported by the Australian Government for superficial reasons. Djokovic has stood firm in his stance that vaccination is a matter of personal choice and freedom.

That said, Novak Djokovic will be vying for a 10th Australian Open title at this year's Major. The Serb is by far the most important player in the tournament's history and also one of their biggest crowd-pullers.

So while it seems dubious to assume that he was given a free pass from vaccination on non-medical grounds, nothing is clear until there is an official statement explaining his medical exemption.

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Edited by Sarbajaya Bhattacharya
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