Djokovic’s land in Serbia raises questions about the French Open

Serbian Belgrade — Novak Djokovic returned on Monday after being prevented from defending the Australian Open title. I just faced a new predicament. If you have not been vaccinated with COVID-19, you may be locked out of the French Open again this year.

An airplane with the number one player in the ranking lands in his hometown of Serbia, ending at least the first chapter of a dizzying drama that resonates with the polarized debate over the world of elite sports, Australian pandemic politics, and coronavirus shots. I did.

A handful of fans waving the Serbian flag greeted him at the airport in Belgrade. Djokovic occupies an almost iconic position in Serbia, and many felt that it was inadequately treated by Australia.

But his worries may not be over yet. He could be locked out of this year’s French Open under a new law aimed at eliminating unvaccinated people from stadiums and other public places. Many changes can occur from now to the start of the Grand Slam tournament in late May, but it raises concerns that recent stories in Australia will be a continuous challenge for athletes, not just blip. Caused.

Christoph Castanel, a member of the French National Assembly, said the new law will apply to anyone who wants to play at the French Open. This is a reversal of the previous plan to create a “bubble” around the tournament.

“To do your job, to come for joy or leisure, to practice sports, you will need to present a vaccine. This is not only for people living in France, but also for vacations and majors. This also applies to foreigners coming to our country for sporting events, “Sports Minister Roxana Malacineanu told BFM TV on Monday.

However, as Djokovic says, legal details, such as how to deal with people who have recently recovered from COVID-19, are still hashed. The question is how recent the infection must be to qualify for an exemption from vaccination regulations.

Djokovic is also the Wimbledon defending champion starting in late June. However, so far, England has allowed visiting athletes to be exempt from various coronavirus regulations if they stay in accommodation when they are not competing or training. The United States Tennis Association, which runs the US Open, says it will follow government rules regarding vaccination status.

It’s not clear if Djokovic will be able to return to Australia anytime. Deportation may lead to a three-year ban on return to the country, but may be exempt in some circumstances.

So far, a warm welcome awaits Djokovic, who has overwhelming support in his native Serbia, where his closest family lives. Serbian President Alexander Vucci accused the Australian government of “harassing” top-ranked tennis stars and urged them to return home.

“God congratulates you on Novak,” said one of the banners held by fans at the airport when he passed through passport management and customs, and was driven into his apartment in Belgrade by his brother Georges. Please read.

Tanjug’s official news agency reported that Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, said her son would stay in Belgrade for the next few days and would not speak to the media.

Novak Djokovic
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic (2nd L) after federal court upheld the government’s decision to cancel the visa to play at the Australian Open on January 16, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. , Walk through Melbourne Airport before boarding the plane. Lauren Elliott / Reuters)

Djokovic’s Australian story is based on a document he provided showing that he was recently infected with COVID-19, and strict vaccination rules from two medical panels and tournament organizers to play at the Australian Open. It started when I was given an exemption. He received a visa to enter the country through an automated process. However, upon arrival, border officials said the tax exemption was invalid and moved to deport him.

Over 95% of all top 100 male and female tennis players in their respective rankings on the tour are vaccinated. At least two other men, American Tennys Sandgren and French Pierre-Huguart, skipped the Australian Open because of the need for a vaccine.

In the end, Australian officials revoked Djokovic’s visa, stating that his presence could stir up opposition to the vaccine and that he needed to be kicked out to keep the Australians safe. He was deported on Sunday, the day before the tournament began in Melbourne.

Djokovic has won nine titles so far. He wanted to win his 21st Grand Slam Singles Trophy this year. This broke the record shared with the most rivals in the history of men’s tennis, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Federer isn’t playing while he’s recovering from his injury, but Nadal is competing.

During a court battle in Australia, Djokovic admitted to attending an interview with a journalist in the L’Équipe newspaper in Belgrade in December after testing positive for the coronavirus. He later explained the “wrong” of this judgment.

When asked if Djokovic would be penalized for ignoring isolation while he was infected when he returned to Serbia, Serbian officials said he would not because the country was not in a state of emergency.

Djokovic was a Serbian national hero, whose president called a court hearing in Australia a “lie-rich farce.”

“Welcome back, Novak, you know we all support you here,” said Belgrade resident Snezana Jankovic. “They can rob you of your visa, but not your Serbian pride.”

Associated Press