Players Can Compete Even If They Have Covid—A Year After Government Deported Unvaccinated Djokovic


Tennis players competing at the Australian Open this month will still be able to take part if they test positive for Covid-19, tournament director Craig Tiley said on Monday, a major departure from the tournament’s stringent pandemic policies from the past two years that saw crowds banned from matches and nine-time champion Novak Djokovic be deported over his refusal to get vaccinated.

Key Facts

Australian Open players will not be required to take Covid-19 tests in order to compete in the tournament, Tiley told reporters, according to multiple news outlets.

Athletes deciding to test will not need to disclose the results and can play even if they test positive for the virus, Tiley added.

Tiley, also the chief executive of Tennis Australia, urged players who felt unwell to stay at home, a recommendation that also applies to the more than 12,000 staff working the event.

The policy shift reflects what is going on in the wider community in Australia and is similar to policies for other sports like cricket, Tiley said.

The tennis chief said navigating the challenges of the virus is a “normalized environment for us” and acknowledged there “will potentially be players that will compete with Covid.”

Key Background

The decision to allow untested, and even Covid-positive, players to compete in the Australian Open marks a major policy shift from the tournament’s strict requirements last year, when players needed to be vaccinated and undergo mandatory testing. The strict rules, which also saw fans locked out of matches to contain an outbreak, meant Novak Djokovic—then the returning champion and an open skeptic of Covid vaccines—was deported on public health grounds and unable to defend his title. The shift also underscores Australia’s changing approach to the virus after years of implementing some of the toughest Covid curbs in the world. For two years, the country imposed strict lockdowns, severely limited internal movement and almost entirely closed its international borders, trapping tens of thousands of Australians abroad.

What We Don’t Know

The Australian Open is the first of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments held every year. It is not clear whether the others—the French Open, Wimbledon (held in the U.K.) and the U.S. Open—will follow suit and none have announced rules yet. All imposed some form of testing requirement on players last year. Rules on what happens if a player tests positive also depend on national guidance. Of the four Grand Slam hosts, only France still has mandatory isolation requirements for those testing positive for Covid.

Surprising Fact

In theory, the different vaccine requirements in place for each Grand Slam country could lead to a situation where a vaccinated, Covid-positive athlete can compete in a tournament while an unvaccinated, Covid-negative athlete cannot. The French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open did not require players to be vaccinated in 2021, though the U.S. Open did have a default policy by way of a national policy requiring international arrivals to be vaccinated. This policy is still in place. As the U.S. has no binding isolation requirement for those testing positive for Covid, it means a vaccinated player with Covid could technically compete when an unvaccinated player without Covid could not unless tournaments impose their own restrictions.

What To Watch For

The U.S. policy requiring international arrivals to be vaccinated was recently extended until April, which means unvaccinated players—which possibly still includes Djokovic—will likely be unable to compete in upcoming Miami Open and Indian Wells tournaments. It’s not clear whether this rule will have been eased by the time the U.S. Open begins in August.

Further Reading

Djokovic Will Likely Miss Indian Wells And Miami Open Due To U.S. Covid Vaccine Mandate (Forbes)

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