French Open boost for Novak Djokovic after ministers insist he can play in spite of vaccine status

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Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates - AP
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates - AP

Novak Djokovic has been spared – for now – from having to be vaccinated against coronavirus to play at the French Open after it was confirmed new rules forcing sportspeople in France to get jabbed would not apply to non-residents.

The announcement by sports minister Roxana Maracineanu also meant England rugby players – including Henry Slade – and Chelsea footballers would not need to be inoculated to play upcoming games in the country.

The French government announced last month that all sportspeople in France must be fully vaccinated from next weekend and that a decision on non-residents would be made in due course.

Speaking to France Info radio, Maracineanu confirmed such individuals would be instead placed in a “health bubble” that would “allow someone like Novak Djokovic to enter the country”.

She added: “All players, all sportsmen and women who train in France, whether French or foreign if they are domiciled in our country must have their vaccine pass all the time to enter a sports venue. However, when it comes to a competition, there are health protocols imposed for major events by the appropriate federations that are added to the protocol of the country.”

French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu - AFP
French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu - AFP

Maracineanu said a crisis meeting on the issue was scheduled on Monday “to define concretely competition by competition what can happen in the coming weeks”.

Telegraph Sport has approached the French Tennis Federation for comment on whether the French Open could impose its own compulsory vaccination rules.

The England rugby team are set to play France in Paris on the final day of the Six Nations on March 19, and while there is no public information on how many of their players are unvaccinated, centre Slade has revealed in the past that he was yet to receive a vaccine.

Chelsea, meanwhile, are scheduled to play Lille away in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie three days earlier.

The most imminent sporting fixtures set to benefit from Maracineanu’s announcement will be next weekend’s European Rugby Champions Cup and Challenge Cup games in France.

Bath, Sale Sharks and Scarlets all travel for matches there.

Djokovic is facing deportation from Australia over his vaccination status ahead of what was meant to have been his defence of his Australian Open title.

Any kind of block on him entering half of this year’s grand slams could wreck his bid to win a record 21st major and finally move clear of arch-rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who are also stuck on 20.

Wimbledon may yet prove his salvation, with the Government having confirmed it had no plans to scrap the elite sport exemption that would allow Djokovic to defend his crown regardless of his vaccination status.

There was also no sign of the US government following the lead of its Australian counterpart ahead of this year’s US Open.