If forced to choose, Novak Djokovic has claimed he would skip the French Open and Wimbledon, giving up the chance to equal or even surpass Rafael Nadal’s record 21 Grand Slam titles , rather than getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
And the world No. 1 is also still reeling from being kicked out of Australia last month following a long saga over his vaccination status that has polarized opinion around the world.
Speaking in an interview broadcast by the BBC on Tuesday, the 20-time Grand Slam champion revealed he was still unvaccinated and was willing to sacrifice titles to stay that way.
If necessary, not defending his titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon and missing other tournaments is “the price I am ready to pay”, argued the 34-year-old Serb, comments likely to further strengthen his hero status with some opponents of vaccination.
Djokovic added that he was not opposed to vaccination and sought to distance himself from anti-vaccination activists, saying, “I never said I was part of this movement. »
But he noted that “everyone has the right to choose, do or say what they feel is appropriate for them” and that he believes in “the freedom to choose what you put in your body.” And, for me, it is essential”.
“I try to be in tune with my body as much as possible,” he explained, adding that he was always careful with everything he ingested. Based on all the information I have obtained, I have decided not to take the vaccine, as of now. »
“I understand the consequences of my decision,” he continued. I understand that not being vaccinated today, I cannot go to most tournaments at the moment. »
When asked if he was ready to miss Roland-Garros in May, he repeated: “That’s the price I’m ready to pay. »
Asked again if he was ready to miss Wimbledon, he added: “Yes. »
“Because the principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else,” he said.
Unhappy with his treatment
Djokovic has won the French Open twice, the last of which was in 2021, and has six Wimbledon titles, including the last three.
Nadal won the Australian Open this year, giving him one more major title than Djokovic and Roger Federer. Djokovic was expelled before he could start the tournament.
Djokovic discussed the drama of his expulsion in detail with the BBC and made clear his displeasure with the way it happened.
“What people probably don’t know is that I wasn’t kicked out of Australia for not being vaccinated, or breaking any rules or making a mistake. in my visa statement, he said. I was deported from Australia because the Minister of Immigration used his discretionary right to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create antivax sentiment in the country or in the city, with which I completely disagree. »
Controversy in Australia
The saga began when Djokovic was granted an exemption from strict vaccination rules by two medical panels and Tennis Australia. This exemption, based on evidence that he had recently recovered from COVID-19, apparently allowed him to receive a visa to enter Australia. But when he arrived, border officials said the exemption was invalid and decided to deport him.
The ensuing controversy raised the question of whether Djokovic had been unfairly given special treatment or was treated unfairly because of his celebrity status.
During his BBC interview, he said: “I never used my privileged status to break into Australia. »
A court initially ruled on procedural grounds that Djokovic could stay in Australia, but Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who has broad powers, later decided to deport him. The government has said his presence could stoke anti-vaccine sentiments.
“I understand there’s been a lot of, let’s say, frustration from Australians towards me and the whole situation and the way it’s been handled,” Djokovic told the BBC. I would like to say that I have always followed the rules. »
His threats to miss the next two majors may prove moot.
New rules in force in England since last week allow unvaccinated people to enter with tests before and after arrival.
Vaccination rules in France could also change in the months before Roland Garros, possibly allowing Djokovic to play. The country has started easing some of its health and travel restrictions as it recovers from a record rise in infections fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.