By DARKO BANDIC and DUSAN STOJANOVIC
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Novak Djokovic returned home Monday after being thwarted from defending his Australian Open title just because he faced a new predicament: He could also be banned from the French Open extended this year, if he has not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.
A plane carrying a No. 1 tennis player has landed in his home country of Serbia, closing at least the first chapter in a dizzying drama that resonates in the world of elite sports, the pandemic politics of the country. Australia and the polarizing debate over coronavirus shots.
A handful of fans waved Serbian flags to greet him at Belgrade airport. Djokovic has an almost iconic status in Serbia, and many there feel he has been mistreated by Australia.
But his troubles may not be over: He could be banned from this year’s French Open, under a new law aimed at excluding the unvaccinated from stadiums and public places. is different. Much could change between now and the start of the Grand Slams at the end of May, but that raises the specter that the recent story in Australia will be not just a blip but an ongoing challenge. for the athlete, who is increasingly seen as a hero by the anti-vaccination movement.
A member of the French National Assembly, Christophe Castaner, said that the new law would apply to anyone wanting to play at the French Open – a reversal from the previous plan to create a “bubble” around the tournament.
“To do your job, for fun or relaxation, to practice a sport, it is essential to present the vaccine. This will apply to people living in France as well as foreigners who come to our country for a vacation or to take part in a major sports competition,” Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu told BFM TV channel. on Monday.
But some details of the law are still being cut out – including how it will deal with people who have recently recovered from COVID-19, as Djokovic said. The question is how recent the infection is to qualify for an exemption from the vaccination rules.
Djokovic is also the defending champion at Wimbledon, which begins in late June. But so far, Britain has granted exemptions from various coronavirus regulations for visiting athletes, if they remain in their accommodation when not competing or training. The United States Tennis Association, which runs the US Open, said it would follow government regulations on vaccination status.
It is also unclear when Djokovic will be able to return to Australia. Deportation could result in a three-year ban from returning to the country, although that could be waived, depending on the circumstances.
Now, a warm welcome awaits Djokovic, who has massive support in his native Serbia, where his closest family lives. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has accused the Australian government of “harassing” the top tennis star and urged him to return home.
“God bless you Novak,” reads one of the banners held by fans at the airport as he was subjected to passport and customs checks, then driven to his apartment in Belgrade by his brother Djordje .
The Tanjug news agency reported that Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, said her son would stay in Belgrade in the coming days and would make no statement to the media.
Djokovic’s Australian story began when he was exempted from strict vaccination regulations by two medical boards and tournament organizers to compete in the Australian Open based on documents he provided. he recently had COVID-19. He received a visa to enter the country through an automated process. But upon arrival, border officials said the waiver was invalid and moved to deport him.
Early news of the star being exempted from fury sparked fury in Australia, where cities and strictly enforced international travel bans have been put in place to try to control the contagion. spread of coronavirus since the pandemic began.
More than 95% of all the top 100 male and female players in their respective tour rankings have been vaccinated. At least two other men – American Tennys Sandgren and Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert – skipped the Australian Open due to vaccine requirements.
Ultimately, Australian authorities revoked Djokovic’s visa, saying his presence could stir anti-vaccination sentiment and that his expulsion was necessary to keep Australians safe. He was expelled on Sunday, the day before the tournament started in Melbourne.
Djokovic has won nine titles there before. He had been hoping to win his 21st Grand Slam singles title this year, breaking the record he shares with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in men’s tennis history. Federer is not playing while recovering from injury, but Nadal is playing.
As the legal battle rages in Australia, Djokovic admitted that he attended an interview in Belgrade in December with journalists from L’Equipe newspaper after testing positive for coronavirus. He later described this as “a mistake” of judgment.
Asked if Djokovic would face any punishment for isolating him while infected when he returned to Serbia, Serbian officials said he would not because the country was not in a state of affairs. emergency state.
Djokovic is a national hero in Serbia, who the president called the Australian hearing “a farce with lots of lies.”
“Novak, welcome home, you know that we are all supporting you here,” said Snezana Jankovic, a Belgrade resident. “They can take away your visa, but they can’t take away your Serbian pride.”
Associated Press writers Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.
https://www.sbsun.com/2022/01/17/djokovic-lands-in-serbia-as-questions-arise-over-french-open/ Djokovic lands in Serbia as questions arise about French Open – San Bernardino Sun