Tennis star Novak Djokovic has broken his silence, saying he would rather miss out on future tennis tournaments than be forced to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
In an exclusive interview with the BBC, the 20-time grand slam champion said missing major competitions, such as French Open and Wimbledon, over his jab status, was “the price that [he is] willing to pay.”
Djokovic told the BBC that while he was “never against vaccinations”, confirming that he’d received them as a child, he “always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
“I say that everyone has the right to choose, to act or say whatever they feel is appropriate for them, and I have never said I’m a part of that movement,” he said.
Djokovic also told the BBC that he understand the consequences of his choice not to get vaccinated and was willing to forgo the chance to be named the greatest tennis player.
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When asked why this was, the 34-year-old responded, “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.”
The athlete explained he had “always been a great student of wellness, wellbeing, health, nutrition,” and his decision to not get the vaccine was partly influenced by the positive impact factors that changing his diet and sleeping patterns had on his abilities as an athlete.
While he was willing to “keep his mind open” about the possibility of getting vaccinated in the future, Djokovic said he hoped vaccination requirements for certain tournaments would change, adding he was hoping to “play for many more years.”
The Serbian became embroiled in controversy earlier this year when he was deported from Australia over the status of his vaccination.
Djokovic had initially been offered entry to Australia to compete in the Australian Open on the ground of a medical exemption; causing widespread outrage.
According to CNN, Djokovic’s team argued that the Serbian tennis star was granted the medical exemption on the ground that he “had natural immunity after being infected with Covid-19 in December.”
Under Australian law, medical exemptions are only given to those who can prove they have suffered anaphylaxis after receiving a previous dose or are significantly immunocompromised, both categories that did not apply to Djokovic and his personal situation.
While a judge had overruled the government’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa and ordered that he be freed, Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, personally cancelled the tennis star’s visa, claiming that his presence would incite “civil unrest” and encourage anti-vaccine sentiment.
Djokovic had been aiming to become the first man to record a 21 grand slam victory ahead of the 2022 Australian Open, instead tennis rival Rafael Nadal went on to win the tournament, claiming his 21st grand slam win.