LONDON — If forced to choose, Novak Djokovic said he would skip the French Open and Wimbledon, foregoing the chance to overtake Rafael Nadal’s record haul of 21 Grand Slams titles, rather than get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Und der No. He is still thinking about how he was deported from Australia last month as a result of a controversy about his vaccination status.
In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, Grand Slam Champion 20 times said that he still has not been vaccinated and was willing to give up titles in order to keep it that way.
If need be, not defending his titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon and missing other tournaments is “the price that I am willing to pay,” said the 34-year-old Serb, comments likely to further boost his hero-status among some opponents of vaccination.
Djokovic said he is not opposed to vaccinations and sought to distance himself from anti-vaccination campaigners, saying: “I have never said that I am part of that movement.”
But he said “everyone has the right to choose, to act, or say what ever they feel is appropriate for them” and that he believes in “the freedom to choose what you put into your body. And, for me, that is essential.”
“I am trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can,” he said, adding that he has always been careful about everything he ingests. “Based on all the information that I got, I decided not to take the vaccine, as of today.
“I understand the consequences of my decision,” Djokovic said. “I understand that not being vaccinated today, you know, I am unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment.”
Asked if he would be prepared to miss the French Open in May, he repeated: “That is the price that I am willing to pay.”
Also asked if would be ready to skip Wimbledon, he added: “Yes.”
“Because the principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else,” he said.
Djokovic is the French Open champion twice and the 2021 Wimbledon winner six times.
Nadal won this year’s Australian Open, giving him one more major title than Djokovic and Roger Federer. Djokovic was expelled before he could continue playing.
Djokovic discussed the drama of deportation with BBC, and expressed dismay at its outcome.
“What people probably don’t know is that I was not deported from Australia on the basis that I was not vaccinated, or I broke any rules or that I made an error in my visa declaration,” he said. “The reason why I was deported from Australia was because the minister for immigration used his discretional right to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create some anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with.”
Djokovic received an exemption from strict vaccine rules in Tennis Australia and two medical panels. This exemption was based upon evidence that Djokovic recently had from COVID-19 and allowed him to get a visa for Australia. The border officers denied that the exemption was valid upon his arrival and deported him.
The back and forth that followed raised the question of whether Djokovic was given unfair treatment due to his fame.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: “I never used my privileged status to get into Australia by force or do anything in this entire process.”
Djokovic was initially allowed to stay by a court on procedural grounds. However, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke decided later that he should be deported. According to the government, his presence might incite anti-vaccine sentiments.
“I understand that there has been lots of, say, frustrations from Australian people towards me and towards the entire situation and the way it was dealt with,” Djokovic told the BBC. “I would like to say that I always followed the rules.”
He may be able to avoid the majors he has threatened to.
The new English rules, which were in effect last week in England allow non-vaccinated persons to enter the country with screenings before and after they arrive.
In France, vaccine rules could change before Roland Garros. This may allow Djokovic to participate. While recovering from an unprecedented surge of infections caused by highly contagious Omicron virus, the country is now easing some travel and health restrictions.
Last week, the French government provided a time frame for possible removal of the vaccine requirement. This puts players who are not vaccinated at current risk of missing out on the French Open.
From Tuesday, anyone who is not vaccinated against the coronavirus will need to show proof they tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous four months — down from the previous six-month window — in order to enter sports venues in France. The French law, which operates under the assumption that you have some protection from the virus if you’ve recently had it, aims to bar unvaccinated individuals from stadiums, restaurants, bars and other public places.
Djokovic stated previously that he was positive at the French Open in December. The French Open will likely exclude Djokovic if the requirement of four months remains in effect. He must be vaccinated again or test positive within the next four months.