Wimbledon poised to let Novak Djokovic defend his title despite refusal to get Covid jab

Pam Shriver, the 22-time grand slam doubles champion, told 5 Live Breakfast Djokovic’s continuing refusal to get vaccinated was “terrible for tennis”. “The fact that he doesn’t trust it, it does lead a lot of people, in his own country and throughout the world,” she said.

Professor Robert Dingwall, a Nottingham Trent University sociologist who has had advisory roles on Government Covid policy, said there was “little point” in Wimbledon banning Djokovic.

“Theoretically, the Home Secretary does have discretionary power to exclude him if she thought he was going to be the face of a big anti-vaxx campaign but he seems to have no interest in that,” he told Telegraph Sport.

“The various sports authorities or tournament organisers might try to restrict entry to events to unvaccinated players or to segregate them from vaccinated players except during matches.

“If they have been reluctant to impose vaccine mandates so far, though, there would be little point in starting to do that just as most countries are removing emergency controls.”

Djokovic also spoke for the first time about doubts raised over the positive coronavirus test at the centre of the deportation furore, declaring he was unaware of any attempt to tamper with it. The Serbian had tried to gain entry to Australia using a medical exemption granted after he produced documents showing he had recently recovered from coronavirus.

“I understand that there is a lot of criticism, and I understand that people come out with different theories on how lucky I was or how convenient it is,” he said. “I really don’t like someone thinking I’ve misused something or in my own favour, in order to, you know, get a positive PCR test and eventually go to Australia.”

Prosecutors in Serbia said earlier this month there was no evidence the positive coronavirus test at the centre of Djokovic’s deportation furore was falsified.

The Belgrade Public Prosecutor’s office released a statement saying it was satisfied paperwork submitted by Djokovic’s lawyers during his failed legal battle to avoid being thrown out of Australia was “valid”.

“The prosecution acted according to the regulations, checks were performed, and it was determined that Novak Djokovic was tested several times and that the certificates on the test results from 16 December 2021 and 22 December 2021 are valid,” the statement said.

Research conducted by a German group called Zerforschung, which partnered with Der Spiegel, flagged up a discrepancy between the dates and serial numbers on those certificates.

The BBC then said it had obtained evidence that appeared to show the serial number on the document stating Djokovic tested positive on December 16 was not only out of sequence with his December 22 negative test but also with a sample of tests from Serbia over the same period.

It found that serial number fell between those obtained from tests carried out between December 25 and 28.

The German investigation earlier identified a further discrepancy with the official online record of Djokovic’s test, a timestamp for which indicating the corresponding web page may not have been created until December 26.

Djokovic, who has admitted breaking quarantine rules by carrying out an interview with a journalist on December 18, had left Serbia for Spain shortly after Christmas before flying to Australia via Dubai.

Analysis: What Novak Djokovic said and what the implications could be

“That is a price I am willing to pay.”

Djokovic declared he was willing to miss Wimbledon and the French Open and forgo the chance the be the greatest player ever to pick up a racquet, rather than get vaccinated against coronavirus.

It is hard to conclude Djokovic was anything but serious given he had already refused to be jabbed to play at the Australian Open, with his stance seemingly unaltered despite his deportation nightmare. However, he was clearly banking on countries soon relaxing their entry requirements to allow unvaccinated players to compete there, saying that would “hopefully” be the case. 

Tim Henman, a member of the board of the All England Club, immediately confirmed Wimbledon was planning to allow Djokovic to compete unjabbed. Entry rules for the United States would appear to prevent him playing at next month’s Masters series events in Indian Wells and Miami. But it would not be a surprise to see those lifted by the US Open in August provided another variant of Covid-19 does not emerge.

“I’ve always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”

The go-to argument for those who refuse to be vaccinated and one made by those who do not understand, or selfishly ignore, the reality of a global pandemic, and the need for as many people as possible to get jabbed to slow the spread of a deadly disease. Djokovic also said that, as an elite athlete, he had always “carefully reviewed and assessed” everything that came into his body. 

Which all sounds very sensible until you dissect his true beliefs and the quackery to which he has so often fallen prey. That includes transforming his diet after being convinced that holding a slice of bread against his stomach was a valid method of diagnosing a gluten intolerance.

“I was never against vaccination.”

For the record, Djokovic said during a Facebook Live stream in April 2020: “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. But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.” This statement was used against him by the Australian government, which argued his presence in the country could stoke anti-vaxx sentiment and could even “civil unrest”. 

Djokovic complained no one had ever asked him during the saga for his opinion on vaccination. But with a Twitter following of nine million, no one should have needed to. Djokovic used his interview to try to distance himself from the anti-vaxx “movement”, even going as far as to say, “I keep my mind open,” about getting jabbed in future.

“I really don’t like someone thinking I’ve misused something”

Djokovic finally broke his silence about doubts raised over the positive coronavirus test at the centre of last month’s deportation furore, declaring he was unaware of any attempt to tamper with it. The Serbian had tried to gain entry to Australia using a medical exemption granted after he produced documents showing he had recently recovered from coronavirus. “I understand that there is a lot of criticism, and I understand that people come out with different theories on how lucky I was or how convenient it is,” he said. 

Prosecutors in Serbia said earlier this month there was no evidence his positive test had been falsified. However, they provided no explanation for discrepancies first flagged up last month between the dates and serial numbers on certificates linked to that test and a subsequent negative one. And, in his BBC interview, neither did Djokovic. 

“The visa declaration error was not deliberately made.”

Discrepancies over the dates of Djokovic’s coronavirus tests were not the only issue that emerged with the documentation submitted to support his entry to Australia. His visa also contained a false statement that he had not travelled and would not do so in the two weeks prior to his flight there. He had, in fact, been in both Serbia and Spain during that period. He said his agent had filled in the form in error, an incredible oversight given Australia’s notoriously strict border controls. 

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