Novak Djokovic has spoken up about his recent vaccine controversy and removal from Australia, claiming that he is "not anti-vax", but is willing to miss any upcoming tennis tournaments that require vaccination to avoid being forced to get the COVID jab.
“I understand the consequences of my decision. And one of the consequences of my decision was not going to Australia and I was prepared not to go, and I understand that not being vaccinated today, I am unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment,” Djokovic stated in an interview with BBC’s Amol Rajan. “Yes, that is the price I’m willing to pay.”
Djokovic said he did not want to be lumped in with the anti-vaccine movement and was “never against vaccination” having had vaccines as a child but that he supports the right to choose. However, back in 2020, he told audiences via a live Facebook chat that “Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel."
For the 20-time Grand Slam winner and male tennis world number 1, this is a decision that could certainly impede his ability to compete in many of the upcoming tournaments.
The upcoming Italian Open in Rome in May requires either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test, and all hotels in Italy require a Super Green Pass (a valid EU proof of vaccination certificate). The French Open also requires proof of negative test and/or proof of recovery, and hospitality in France requires a COVID-19 pass. The French sports ministry has stated there is no exemption from the requirement for vaccine certificates to enter public places, whether they are a "spectator or a professional sportsperson".
Wimbledon, in the UK, hasn't finalized its safety measures yet but says it will be guided by the government. However, for the US Open in September, all non-US citizens must be fully vaccinated to enter the country.
When asked whether his decision is important enough to forgo the opportunity to become the “best player to have ever touched a racket," Djokovic replied that it is, "Because the principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else. I'm trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can."
Apparently against his intentions, the tennis player has become a martyr figure for the anti-vax movement. One that has evolved throughout the pandemic; the movement originally centered around how the vaccination was ‘untested’ and not approved by the FDA, but once mRNA vaccines were approved, anti-vaxxers have since moved to the argument of bodily autonomy and the "freedom to choose".
While they may want him, Djokovic was clear he did not want to be affiliated with such people. “I have never said I am part of that movement. No one in the whole process of the Australian saga has asked me for my opinion on vaccination,” he stated. That may be the case, but Djokovic has offered up his opinions on vaccination in public before, as well as some other curious non-scientific claims such as polluted water can be purified by positive emotions, and that he was convinced to go gluten-free after a rather dubious test that involved holding a piece of white bread against his stomach to prove it made him weaker.
Djokovic is also an investor in a company called QuantBioRes, which is investigating a possible COVID-19 treatment by predicting the "electromagnetic frequencies" involved in different biological functions. The idea has extremely limited scientific research backing it, and the company has not produced work leading to a possible COVID-19 treatment to date.