Novak Djokovic's French Open in doubt after sports minister U-turns on vaccine passes

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Novak Djokovic's French Open in doubt after sports minister U-turns on vaccine passes
© AP Novak Djokovic prepares to take his seat on a plane to Belgrade – AP

Novak Djokovic’s prospects of landing a 21st major title suffered another blow on Sunday night, when the French sports minister announced that vaccine passes would be required for visiting athletes at upcoming events.

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If this position remains in force until May’s French Open, then Djokovic could find himself missing a second major because of his refusal to be vaccinated. Unless, of course, he climbs down from his position and accepts the jab.

Djokovic was ejected from Australia on Sunday night, leaving the country less than 12 hours before play started in Melbourne the following morning. Home affairs minister Karen Andrews confirmed on Monday that, like anyone else who has had their visa cancelled, he is now banned from entering Australia again for three years. In theory, this extra punishment can be waived, but Andrews said “that’s all hypothetical at this point”.

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Djokovic can at least look forward to playing Wimbledon in June, as the UK has a bubble arrangement for visiting athletes who have not been vaccinated. Sportspeople in this position are required to quarantine for ten days, but can be released halfway through if they pass a private Covid test. They are also allowed to travel to and from training facilities during this period.

Ten days ago, the French sports minister – Roxana Maracineau – had spoken of using a similar “health bubble” system for visiting athletes. But after further discussions, the government have decided to take a harder line.

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Novak Djokovic's French Open in doubt after sports minister U-turns on vaccine passes
© Provided by The Telegraph This screen grab from AFPTV shows Serbia’s Novak Djokovic (C) walking ahead of his coach Goran Ivanisevic – AFP

In a social media post on Sunday night, Maracineau said that “The vaccine pass has been adopted. As soon as the law is promulgated, it will become compulsory to enter public buildings already subject to the health pass (stadium, theatre or lounge) for all spectators, practitioners, French or foreign professionals.”

Earlier on Sunday, French Tennis Federation president Gilles Morretton had given a briefing in which he spoke of his intention to admit some unvaccinated players to the French Open under exemptions. But this position appears to have been overtaken by Maracineau’s update.

Novak Djokovic's French Open in doubt after sports minister U-turns on vaccine passes
© Provided by The Telegraph Novak Djokovic prepares to take his seat on a plane to Belgrade – AP

Meanwhile, as Djokovic and his coaches arrived in Dubai en route to a final destination in Spain, the Australian Open began without any of the demonstrations that some had feared.

There is still ill-feeling around the Australian government’s actions, however. Two Serbian players – Laslo Djere and Dusan Lajovic – were among those expressing their frustration at Djokovic’s ejection. “The way they treated him was terribly wrong,” said Lajovic, while Djere called it a “catastrophic situation”, and also promised that Djokovic would “come back stronger”.

“That’s also in our Serbian mentality,” added Djere. “When we get beat down or we are treated a bad way or how we maybe don’t deserve, we just try – especially him – to be inspired by that and gain strength from that.”

Novak Djokovic's French Open in doubt after sports minister U-turns on vaccine passes
© Provided by The Telegraph Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic is seen after boarding a plane – Reuters

Under current Australian rules, Djokovic is banned from returning to the country for three years, although Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that the nine-time Australian Open champion may be able to return sooner “in the right circumstances”.

“I’m not going to sort of precondition any of that or say anything that would not enable the minister to make the various calls they have to make,” Morrison told Nine radio.

“I mean, it does go over a three-year period, but there is the opportunity for them to return in the right circumstances and that would be considered at the time.”

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