Djokovic could be barred from French Open for refusing COVID vaccine, too
Novak Djokovic could be barred from the French Open later this year because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19, a possibility that raised the stakes for the tennis star just hours after he was deported from Australia and prevented from defending his Australian Open title.
A plane carrying the No. 1-ranked player touched down in his native Serbia on Monday, closing at least the first chapter in a dizzying drama that has resonance in the world of elite sports, Australian pandemic politics, and the polarized debate over the coronavirus shots.
Djokovic was expected to receive a hero’s welcome from his countrymen, many of whom think he was unfairly treated in Australia. But only handful of fans waving the Serbian flag greeted him at the airport in the capital, Belgrade.
At the same time, clouds gathered over what would come next for the player: French officials said a new law requiring vaccination to enter sports venues would have no exceptions. Much could change between now and the start of the French Open, which is the next Grand Slam, in late May. But that raised the possibility that the recent saga in Australia would be not just a blip but an ongoing challenge for the unvaccinated athlete, who is increasingly being held up as a hero by the anti-vaccine movement.
Djokovic had argued that he was exempt from strict Australian vaccination rules because he had recently recovered from COVID-19. But once he arrived in the country, Australian authorities said the exemption wasn’t valid. They eventually cited the public interest and revoked his visa, saying his presence could stir up anti-vaccine sentiment and that kicking him out was necessary to keep Australians safe.
As Djokovic flew home from Australia, member of the French Parliament Christophe Castaner said the new law will exclude unvaccinated people from sports venues, restaurants and other public places and will apply to anyone who wants to play in the French Open — a reversal of plans to create a “bubble” around the tournament.
France’s sports ministry said Monday that once the new law is in place, there will be no exceptions until further notice.