Australian Open chief insists there was ‘no special favour’ for Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic pointing

Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley has dismissed suggestions that Novak Djokovic received special treatment from organisers after he was handed a medical exemption to compete at the hard-court Grand Slam.

The decision to clear Djokovic to play at the season-opening major has caused a major uproar around the world as it came on the back of Tennis Australia initially saying that only players who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 would be allowed to participate.

However, organisers backtracked in recent weeks as they revealed those who receive medical exemptions from two independent panels would able to compete.

And on Tuesday Djokovic – who has made no secret about his anti-vaxx stance – announced that he would fly to Australia after being handed a medical exemption.

Comment – Novak Djokovic walking into a storm after controversial Australian Open exemption

It raised a lot of eyebrows, but Tiley insisted that the 20-time Grand Slam winner met the strict guidelines that were set out by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

“If they didn’t meet the guidelines, and there were many that didn’t so therefore they were rejected, but if they met the guidelines including for example – which a lot of people forget – is one of those conditions is having COVID recently, in the past six months,” he told Channel Nine.

“Any person who met those conditions has been allowed to come in. There’s been no special favour. There’s been no special opportunity granted to Novak.”

In a later interview he revealed that Djokovic were among a “handful” of players who were handed exemptions and says it is up to the individual to make the decision public.

“There were 26 applicants through the process. There is a handful which was provided with an exemption and that information only gets disclosed by those individuals on the grounds which they were provided,” Tiley said.

“That is personal, private, confidential medical information that we are not at liberty to disclose publicly. But it is very clear on the ATAGI guidelines on what conditions you would receive an exemption.”

He added: “The process has been very clear and we completely understand and empathise with first of all some people being upset that Novak has come in because of his statements over the past couple of years around vaccination. However, it is ultimately up to him to discuss with the public his condition if he chooses to do that and the reason why he has an exemption.”

Acting Victorian Sports Minister Jaala Pulford also backed up Tiley in terms of the decision to clear Djokovic to play.

“I think lots of people in the Victorian community will find this to be a disappointing outcome,” she said.

“But the process is the process; nobody has had special treatment. The process is incredibly robust. It’s de-identified and we are where we are, and so the tennis can begin.”