The controversy around Novak Djokovic’s COVID-19 vaccination status once again continues as the tennis great withdrew from the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, the tournament announced Sunday, after his request for a vaccine exemption was denied.
Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, was replaced by Georgian player Nikoloz Basilashvili in the tournament that will begin later this month.
Since the start of 2022, Djokovic has missed the Australian Open, the U.S. Open and five Masters tournaments due to his vaccination status.
For its part, the U.S. Open called Djokovic “one of the greatest champions” of tennis and said it was “hopeful” that he would be able to secure an exemption to enter the country.
Stuart Fraser, a tennis correspondent for The Times, noted that while the U.S. government said its “international air travel policy is stringent, consistent across the globe and guided by public health,” the country remains the only one on the ATP Tour that requires inbound foreigners to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
In light of Djokovic’s decision, Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) urged President Biden to waive the existing vaccine mandate so Djokovic could compete in U.S.-based tournaments.
This is far from the first time Djokovic has made headlines due to a COVID-19 related controversy.
During the early period of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, Djokovic expressed resistance to the prospect of taking a COVID-19 vaccine and later released a statement saying he opposed mandatory vaccinations and wanted to “have an option to choose what’s best for my body.”
After he organized a tennis tournament in southeastern Europe months later, Djokovic contracted the virus and the competition was canceled.
Though 2021 was a relatively quiet year for Djokovic as it related to the pandemic, the start of 2022 was anything but.
Ahead of the 2022 Australian Open, Djokovic traveled to the country to prepare for the tournament. However, due to being unvaccinated, the Australian government canceled his visa and he was ultimately deported from the county.
He issued a statement in mid-January 2022 saying he was “extremely disappointed” with the decision. The uncertain, back-and-forth nature of the quarrel made headlines worldwide
Following the controversy in Australia, Djokovic told the BBC that he was willing to forgo title chances due to his vaccination status.
“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,” he said.
Similarly, Djokovic did not compete in the 2022 U.S. Open due to his vaccination status, though the U.S. Open said it looked forward to his competing in the 2023 tournament.
Prior to pulling out of the BNP Paribas Open, Djokovic received a visa to participate in the 2023 Australian Open and won the tournament. Still, he publicly questioned the ATP and the Grand Slam for his treatment during the Australian Open while also accusing the media of “publicly lynching” him.
“I am an easy target to be the villain. That is how they portray me. For me, that is now a normal occurrence, but I will not tolerate injustice,” he said. “Some things I can tolerate, some I cannot. They do not deserve for something like this to just be allowed to get away with it.”