Tennis star Novak Djokovic said he would miss the French Open and Wimbledon rather than get vaccinated against COVID-19.
If given the choice, he said he would not take the chance to pass Rafael Nadal's record 21 Grand Slam titles.
And the number 1-ranked tennis player is still angry about being deported last month from Australia before the Australian Open. He was deported, or forced to leave the country, over his vaccination status.
Speaking in an interview Tuesday with the BBC, the 20-time Grand Slam champion said he is still not vaccinated. He said he is willing to give up competition to stay unvaccinated.
Djokovic said he is not opposed to vaccinations. The Serb said he was never part of the anti-vaccine movement.
But he said “everyone has the right to choose, to act, or say whatever they feel is appropriate for them."
Djokovic said he has always been careful about everything he puts in his body. “Based on all the information that I got, I decided not to take the vaccine, as of today,” he said.
Djokovic has won the French Open twice, including in 2021. He also has six Wimbledon titles, including the last three.
Nadal won this year's Australian Open. That gave him one more major title than Djokovic and Roger Federer. Djokovic was deported before he could play.
Djokovic told the BBC he was not deported because he was not vaccinated or broke any rules. He said he believes he was deported because the government thought “I might create some anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with.”
The controversy began when Djokovic was given an exemption to the vaccination rules by two groups of medical experts and Tennis Australia so that he could play. That exemption, based on evidence that he recently recovered from COVID-19, permitted him to receive a visa to enter Australia. But upon arrival, border officials said the exemption was not valid and moved to deport him.
The decision raised questions of whether Djokovic was unfairly given special treatment or unfairly deported because of his fame.
A court first ruled that Djokovic could stay. But Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who has wide powers, later decided to deport him. The government said his presence could raise anti-vaccine feelings.
“I understand that there has been lots of, say, frustrations from Australian people towards me and towards the entire situation and the way it was dealt with,” Djokovic told the BBC. “I would like to say that I always followed the rules.”
But his threats to skip the next two major tournaments may not matter in the end.
New rules in England since last week permit unvaccinated people to enter with tests before and after their arrival. The French government also said it may end its vaccination requirement at the end of March or beginning of April.
But in France starting Tuesday, anyone who is not vaccinated against the coronavirus will need to prove they tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous four months. Otherwise, they will not be able to enter sports centers in France.
Djokovic has previously said that he tested positive in mid-December. If the four-month requirement stays in place, it is likely to rule him out of the French Open. He would only be permitted to play if he gets vaccinated or tests positive again within four months of the start of the tournament May 22.
I’m Jill Robbins.
Dan Novak adapted this for VOA Learning English from reporting by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
appropriate — adj. right or suited for some purpose or situation
sentiment — n. an attitude or opinion
controversy — n. argument that involves many people who strongly disagree about something
exemption — n. freedom from being required to do something that others are required to do
frustration— n. a feeling of anger or annoyance caused by being unable to do something
tournament — n. a sports competition or series of contests that involves many players or teams and that usually continues for at least several days