Novak Djokovic, the world’s top men’s tennis champion, will not compete in two upcoming U.S. tennis tournaments because he is unvaccinated, the same reason he was kept out of the Australian Open.
He has said his decision to remain unvaccinated is a personal decision based on his concern regarding everything that goes into his body as an “elite professional athlete,” NPR reported. He has said he is not anti-vaccination, understands vaccines’ importance in fighting the pandemic and accepts that his decision will prevent him from competing in some tournaments.
Djokovic had been waiting for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to possibly grant him an exception to travel to the United States despite being unvaccinated. The U.S. began requiring vaccines for all international travelers coming into the country on November 8, 2021.
However, in a Wednesday afternoon tweet, Djokovic said that he won’t compete in The Indian Wells Masters tournament (also known as the BNP Paribas Open) held in California from March 7 to 20. He also said he will not compete in the Miami Open tournament held in Florida from March 21 to April 3.
“While I was automatically listed in the @BNPPARIBASOPEN and @MiamiOpen draw I knew it would be unlikely I’d be able to travel,” Djokovic said in the tweet. “The CDC has confirmed that regulations won’t be changing so I won’t be able to play in the US. Good luck to those playing in these great tournaments.”
It’s likely that Djokovic’s vaccination status will also prevent him from playing in the French Open in May and the French Monte Carlo Masters in April. He will also likely be barred from Spain’s Mutua Madrid Open in May due to the country’s vaccination requirements.
In January, France’s sports minister said Djokovic would be allowed due to a “health bubble” around the tournament, Newsweek previously reported. But a member of the French Parliament later said that the tennis pro would receive no “preferential treatment” to avoid a law barring unvaccinated people from sports venues and other public places.
Djokovic said he was willing to miss the French Open over his vaccination status. “That is the price that I’m willing to pay,” he told the BBC.
Djokovic competed in the Dubai Duty-Free Tennis Championships last February. The United Arab Emirates, where the tournament was held, has less stringent COVID-19 restrictions. The tournament also did not require players to be vaccinated.
Djokovic will likely be allowed to play in Italy’s Rome Open tournament in May and England’s Wimbledon tournament in June. Both nations’ rules allow visitors to enter if they present a negative COVID-19 test.
In January, Australian authorities forbade Djokovic from participating in the 2022 Australian Open.
Djokovic arrived in the country with a medical exemption and an approved visa that would allow him to play, but government officials rejected them, dashing his hopes of winning his 21st Grand Slam trophy there.
Australia has some of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions in the world. Over 94 percent of its population over the age of 16 has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the country’s Department of Health website.
“The reason why I was deported from Australia was because the minister for immigration used his discretion to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create some anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with,” Djokovic said in February.
During the dispute over whether to allow him to compete, Djokovic said he mistakenly marked “no” on a form asking whether he traveled within 14 days of landing in Australia. It was also revealed that before arriving, he had sat for an interview and photoshoot for a French newspaper in December 2021 while he was knowingly infected with COVID, the Associated Press reported.
“The principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else,” Djokovic told the BBC in February. “I’m trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can.”
“I understand the consequences of my decision,” he continued. “I have my own thoughts about the matter and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know.”
He has previously denied accusations that he tampered with his COVID-19 test results.
Djokovic’s exclusion from upcoming tournaments could negatively impact fan and sponsor turnout, James Skinner, the director of the Institute for Sport Business at Loughborough University London, told Newsweek.
Djokovic “brings in the crowds,” Skinner said, which increases broadcast numbers and gives greater exposure to sponsors.
“If you have big-name stars missing, then you’ve got issues around revenue, like gate-takings, broadcast rights, sponsorship deals,” Skinner said. “So there’s a potential for revenue shortfalls.”
However, he also conceded that Djokovic’s refusal to get vaccinated could also hurt the tennis pro’s personal brand, especially considering how instrumental vaccinations have been toward ending the worldwide pandemic.