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Novak Djokovic says he is willing to miss tournaments to avoid Covid vaccination

“The principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title, or anything else,” the tennis star said in an interview broadcast Tuesday by the BBC.
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Tennis star Novak Djokovic has said he is willing to sacrifice competing in upcoming tournaments so he can remain unvaccinated against Covid-19.

In his first interview since being deported from Australia last month, the world's top-ranked tennis player spoke about the saga that became a lightning rod for the global debate over coronavirus measures.

“The principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title, or anything else,” Djokovic said in an interview broadcast Tuesday by the BBC.

“I understand the consequences of my decision,” he said, confirming he is still not vaccinated and is willing to sacrifice titles — and potentially even the chance to overtake Rafael Nadal’s record haul of 21 Grand Slams — to remain that way.

Djokovic, 34, was embroiled in a weekslong saga over his vaccination status in the lead-up to last month's Australian Open. He saw his visa cancelled, reinstated, and canceled again by the country’s immigration minister, who cited fears the high-profile athlete’s presence would stoke anti-vaccine sentiment.

The Serbian star's deportation from the country won him support from opponents of vaccination mandates but denied him the chance to compete for a record-breaking title, which Nadal won instead.

Djokovic said he was prepared to lose out on future titles and the chance to make history for the sake of his personal beliefs.

Image: Serbian tennis player Djokovic arrives in Belgrade after losing Australia court appeal against visa cancellation
A hero's welcome greeted Djokovic on his arrival back on home soil in Serbia.Christopher Pike / Reuters

“I understand that not being vaccinated today, I’m unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment. And that is the price I’m willing to pay,” he told the BBC, confirming he was prepared to sit out the upcoming French Open and Wimbledon.

France has enforced vaccine mandates in public spaces which could also see the top player denied entry to compete at Roland Garros in May.

The rules may however change in the coming months as Europe slowly eases its pandemic restrictions. New rules in force in England since last week allow unvaccinated people to enter with tests before and after their arrival.

Despite his stance, the athlete also sought to distance himself from the anti-vaccination movement of which he has become a hero.

"I was never against vaccination. I understand that globally everyone is trying to put a big effort to handling this virus and seeing hopefully an end soon to this virus and vaccination is probably the biggest effort that was made... I fully respect that," he said. "But I have always represented and supported the freedom to choose what you put into your body."

“I have never said I am part of that movement," the Serb added, referring to global opposition to vaccine mandates which has fueled protests and disruption in several Western countries in recent weeks. "It’s really unfortunate that there has been this kind of misconception and wrong conclusion that has been made around the world.”