LONDON (AP) — If forced to choose, Novak Djokovic said he would skip the French Open and Wimbledon, giving up the chance to surpass Rafael Nadal’s record 21 Grand Slam titles, rather than get vaccinated against COVID-19.
And the No.1-ranked tennis player is also still worried that he was kicked out of Australia last month in a drama over his vaccination status that polarized opinion around the world.
Speaking in an interview broadcast by the BBC on Tuesday, the 20-time Grand Slam champion said 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”, said the 34-year-old Serb, remarks likely to further cement his hero status with some opponents. vaccination.
Djokovic said he was not opposed to vaccinations and sought to distance himself from anti-vaccination activists saying, “I never said I was part of this movement.”
But he said “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, that’s essential.
“I try to be in tune with my body as much as possible,” he said, adding that he’s always been careful with everything he ingests. “Based on all the information I have obtained, I have decided not to take the vaccine, starting today.
“I understand the consequences of my decision,” Djokovic said. “I understand that not being vaccinated today, you know, I can’t make it to most tournaments at the moment.”
When asked if he would be willing to miss Roland-Garros in May, he repeated: “That’s the price I’m willing to pay.”
Also asked if he would be willing 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 has won the French Open twice, including 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 sent off before he could play.
Djokovic went over the deportation drama 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. “The reason I was deported from Australia is that the Minister for Immigration used his discretionary right to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with.”
The saga began when Djokovic was granted an exemption from strict vaccination rules by two medical panels and Tennis Australia in order to play. This exemption, based on evidence that he has 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.
An ensuing back-and-forth raised questions about whether Djokovic had unfairly received special or unfairly singled out treatment due to his celebrity status.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: ‘I have never used my privileged status to break into Australia or do anything in this whole process.
A court initially ruled on procedural grounds that Djokovic could stay, 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 skip 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 leading up to 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.
Last week, the French government gave a late March, early April deadline for the possible lifting of its vaccine requirement which, for now, puts unvaccinated players at risk of missing the French Open.
From Tuesday, anyone not vaccinated against the coronavirus will have to prove that they have tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous four months – down from the previous six-month window – in order to access the sites. athletes in France. French law, which assumes you have some protection against the virus if you’ve recently contracted it, aims to ban unvaccinated people from stadiums, restaurants, bars and other public places.
Djokovic previously said he tested positive in mid-December. If the four-month requirement remains in place, it will likely rule him out of the French Open unless he is vaccinated or tests positive again within four months of the start of the Grand Slam. on clay on May 22.