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Djokovic Open vaccination saga continues

Tennis fans and fellow players will never know if Novak Djokovic required a medical exemption to defend his Australian Open crown at Melbourne Park next month.

Not unless the world No.1 reveals so himself.

Tennis Australia has released its COVID-19 vaccination protocols for the 2022 Open from January 17-30, including the process for players seeking medical exemptions, after finalising the process in conjunction with the Victorian Department of Health.

Significantly, the process will include redacting personal information to ensure privacy for all applicants, meaning the names of any players who seek exemptions will never be publicly disclosed.

Under an independent process, applications for a medical exemption will first be reviewed by an expert panel made up of doctors from the fields of immunology, infectious disease and general practice.

Applications that meet the national guidelines set by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) will then be subject to a second review, conducted by a government-appointed panel of medical experts, the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel.

If an exemption is deemed valid in line with the ATAGI guidelines, the medical exemption will be submitted to the Australian Immunisation Register.

No panellists will ever know the identity of any player seeking an exemption.

AO tournament director Craig Tiley reaffirmed that all players, fans and staff at the Open must be fully vaccinated, unless there was a genuine reason why an exemption should be granted.

“Central to this process is that the decisions will be made by independent medical experts and that every applicant gets due consideration,” Tiley said.

Tiley last week said no player, including Djokovic, had received a medical exemption to compete at the Open.

But the nine-time champion’s repeated refusal to reveal his vaccination status and the Serb’s father claiming his superstar son “probably wouldn’t” be at the Open unless the vaccination rules were relaxed, has cast doubt about Djokovic’s position after he was named on this month’s official entry list.

Former Open director Paul McNamee this week claimed reports of Djokovic wanting a medical exemption were “concocted” and “fantasy”.

“Why would he apply for one? He is the healthiest guy in the world,” McNamee told Sportsday Radio in Melbourne.

Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert, a five-times grand slam doubles champion, and Australian teenage ace Olivia Gadecki, have both ruled themselves out of the Open after choosing not to get vaccinated.

Victorian sports minister Martin Pakula on Friday said he hoped a fully vaccinated Djokovic would be at the Open.

“If he chooses not to get vaccinated, and he’s not eligible for a medical exemption, then he won’t,” Pakula said.

Pakula rejected suggestions the government had passed the buck and given TA too much power in the medical exemption process, having been adamant for months that no players would be allowed into Melbourne Park unless fully vaccinated.

“It’s not for me or the premier or any other politician to determine if someone’s claim of effectively medical inability to be vaccinated is a valid one,” he said.

“That’s a decision that’s got to be verified by medical professionals and I think the public might be rightly concerned if it was just a single doctor making that call.

“But that’s why a three-person panel followed by a review panel, making sure that any claim is verified, I think, is the appropriate process.

“I don’t think you can really do much more than that.”

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