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Novak Djokovic: Unvaccinated star 'willing to pay price' of missing Grand Slams

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By Euronews  with AP
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Serbia's Novak Djokovic kisses the cup after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece during their final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium
Serbia's Novak Djokovic kisses the cup after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece during their final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

Novak Djokovic has said he is prepared to skip the French Open and Wimbledon if vaccination against the coronavirus is required for him to play.

The world number one in men's tennis and 20-time Grand Slam champion confirmed in an interview with the BBC that he is still not vaccinated against COVID-19.

In January his vaccination status led to his deportation from Australia, where he lost his bid to stay in the country to defend his Australian Open title after a 10-day legal battle.

He also lost the chance to break the record for the highest number of Grand Slams -- a feat that was achieved by his rival Rafael Nadal.

In the new interview, the tennis star denies being against vaccination -- a claim which, however, appears to contradict remarks he has made in the past.

"I was never against vaccination. I understand that globally, everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus and hopefully seeing an end to this virus, and vaccination is probably the biggest effort," Djokovic told the BBC.

"I fully respect that," the player added, but said that on a point of principle, as an "elite athlete" he had always taken care with "everything that comes into my body".

"Based on all the information that I got, I decided not to take the vaccine as of today."

'Price I am willing to pay'

The 34-year-old Serb said that missing the next two majors, where he is also the defending champion, and other tournaments is “the price that I am willing to pay.” Djokovic has won the French Open twice and has six Wimbledon titles.

“I understand the consequences of my decision,” he said. “I understand that not being vaccinated today, you know, I am unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment.”

Djokovic, however, distanced himself from anti-vaccination campaigners. Some claimed him as their hero during the saga in Australia.

“I have never said that I am part of that movement," Djokovic said, although he also said that “everyone has the right to choose, to act, or say whatever they feel is appropriate for them."

Vaccination rules in France could change in the months before Roland Garros, possibly allowing Djokovic to play in the French Open. At the moment, unvaccinated players are at risk of missing the tournament.

The French authorities, which have begun easing some health and travel restrictions have said they are considering lifting the vaccine requirement by the end of March or the beginning of April if the pandemic recedes.

Do Djokovic's comments stand up?

Djokovic says in his latest interview that he "was never against vaccination". This does not appear to tally, however, with comments he made in a live chat with his Serbian Davis Cup teammates in April 2020.

“I am personally against vaccines and I wouldn’t want anyone to force me to take one so I can travel. If this turned out to be a rule and law, what will happen then?” he said.

In June 2020, during the first summer of the coronavirus pandemic and while the men's tennis ATP tour was shut down in line with all other major sporting events, Djokovic organised an exhibition tour in the Serbian capital Belgrade and in Zadar, Croatia.

The aim was to prove that the world could continue to function normally in the face of COVID-19. But Djokovic was forced to apologise after many of the participants tested positive, including him.

The tournament in Zadar, which had already faced criticism for a lack of social distancing measures, was abandoned.

In his native Serbia, Djokovic is by far the most popular sports star, widely lauded for both his tennis achievements as well as a number of domestic and regional humanitarian actions.

But his actions during the Australian Open saga provoked widespread scorn and came at a time when many countries were fighting a fifth pandemic wave by trying to increase their vaccination rates.

Many studies have found that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and extremely effective in preventing severe cases of the disease and hospitalisations.