Novak Djokovic attended tennis event with children 'day after he tested positive for Covid'

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Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic attended a presentation for young tennis players the day after he tested positive for Covid, raising questions over how seriously he took the virus.

His claim to have been granted a vaccine exemption to enter Australia because he contracted Covid-19 last month has now raised questions over his movements when he tested positive.

In court documents published on Saturday, his legal team stated that the Serbian recorded a positive test on Dec 16, and had "not had a fever or respiratory symptoms of Covid-19 in the last 72 hours".

Djokovic has been held at an immigration facility in Melbourne since Thursday morning after his visa was cancelled following examination of the medical exemption he had secured to travel to the first tennis major of the year.

The Park Hotel where tennis player Novak Djokovic remains
The Park Hotel where tennis player Novak Djokovic remains

According to his legal team, Djokovic was provided with a letter from the chief medical officer of Tennis Australia, recording he had a medical exemption from Covid vaccination.

It is claimed that the exemption certificate was "provided by an Independent Expert Medical Review panel commissioned by Tennis Australia", and that "the decision of that panel had been reviewed and endorsed by an independent Medical Exemptions Review Panel of the Victorian State Government".

Djokovic's lawyers added that he was granted an "Australian Travel Declaration" because he was told by the authorities that [he met] the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival into Australia".

However, photographs have now emerged apparently showing the player at a number of public ceremonies in Serbia on the day his lawyers said he tested positive and the day after, raising questions as to whether he ignored the possible danger to others.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic

On Dec 16, a maskless Djokovic shared a picture of himself speaking at a panel for the Novak Djokovic Foundation at the Novak Tennis Centre in Dorćol, Serbia.

On Dec 17, Djokovic was presented with a commemorative stamp in his honour by the Serbian Postal Service at an indoor event. Neither the player nor those sitting close to him were wearing masks.

The same day he attended a ceremony held by the Tennis Association of Belgrade, where he presented trophies to several children, once again indoors and without wearing a mask.

The event was attended only by the award winners "due to epidemiological measures related to the coronavirus pandemic", said the association in a statement.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic

At the time of the events anyone in Serbia who tested positive was expected to isolate for 14 days. On Dec 28 Darija Kisic Tepavcevic, the country’s Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, confirmed the rules would remain in place

The wording of his legal submissions suggests that Djokovic received the positive test result on Dec 16. But his movements at the time have raised questions as to whether he was taking seriously enough the possibility of having contracted Covid.

One infectious disease specialist tweeted Djokovic, saying: "Wasn’t this one day after you claimed to be ill with Covid?"

Djokovic may have welcomed a positive Covid result as it gave him the exemption he believed was necessary to be allowed to enter the Australian Open for the 21st Grand Slam title he craved.

There was further confusion after it was pointed out that a positive test on Dec 16 would have come too late for the Tennis Australia exemption deadline as described to players.

According to Tennis Australia documents, the deadline for applying for an exemption had been nearly a week earlier, "no later than" Dec 10.

Djokovic, an outspoken critic of mandatory vaccination, has never disclosed his own vaccination status.

The nine-time Australian Open winner will have to wait for a hearing in Australia's federal court on Monday to discover whether he will be allowed into the country to compete.

His lawyers said he had been held mostly "incommunicado" for eight hours when he first arrived in Australia.

It emerged on Friday that two other people connected to the tournament were instructed to leave the country by the Australian Border Force.

One is Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova, who played in a warm-up tournament in Melbourne this week but has now been deported.

One is Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova, who played in a warm-up tournament in Melbourne this week but has now opted to leave Australia. - Peter Cziborra/REUTERS
One is Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova, who played in a warm-up tournament in Melbourne this week but has now opted to leave Australia. - Peter Cziborra/REUTERS

Djokovic, 34, has been instructed to stay at Melbourne's The Park Hotel, which is used to house asylum seekers and refugees, before Monday's hearing - though Karen Andrews, Australia's Home Affairs Minister, said on Friday he is free to leave the country "at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that".

The player broke his silence on Instagram, saying: "Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated."

His wife Jelena also took to social media to express her gratitude to the player's fans for their backing.

In Instagram and Twitter posts, Jelena Djokovic wrote: "Thank you dear people, all around the world for using your voice to send love to my husband.

"I am taking a deep breath to calm down and find gratitude (and understanding) in this moment for all that is happening.

"The only law that we should all respect across every single border is Love and respect for another human being. Love and forgiveness is never a mistake but a powerful force. Wishing you all well!"

Australia's Nick Kyrgios, who has previously clashed with Djokovic on a number of issues, called for his country to "do better" in its treatment of the 20-time major champion.

The world No 93 wrote on Twitter: "Look I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mum's health, but how we are handling Novak's situation is bad, really bad.

"Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better."

Djokovic's father claimed the world No 1 has been made a scapegoat and "crucified" in the row.

The Australian newspaper reported that Djokovic had requested access to his chef and a tennis court while in detention, but that his request was denied.

Djokovic - REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Djokovic - REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Groups of anti-vaccine protesters, Djokovic supporters and refugee campaigners have gathered outside the hotel, which is under police guard, to voice their respective agendas.

Tennis Australia said it never knowingly misled players and had always urged players to be vaccinated, after a document from the organising body was leaked, apparently advising players on ways to enter the country with a medical exemption from vaccination.

"We have always been consistent in our communications to players that vaccination is the best course of action - not just as the right thing to do to protect themselves and others, but also as the best course of action to ensure they could arrive in Australia," Tennis Australia said in a statement.

"We reject completely that the playing group was knowingly misled."