LONDON – Novak Djokovic has said he would rather miss out on future tennis trophies than be forced to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Speaking exclusively to the BBC, he said he should not be associated with the anti-vax movement, but supported an individual’s right to choose.
Djokovic was asked if he would sacrifice taking part in competitions such as Wimbledon and the French Open over his stance on the vaccine.
“Yes, that is the price that I’m willing to pay,” he said.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner was deported from Australia last month after the government cancelled his Visa in a row over his vaccine status.
Djokovic, who is the world’s number one men’s tennis player, said he had obtained a medical exemption to enter the country to play in the Australian Open as he had recently recovered from Covid-19.
Novak Djokovic has told the BBC he is willing to forfeit future trophies rather than get vaccinated against Covid.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) February 15, 2022
However, the country’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, personally cancelled the 34-year-old’s visa, because his presence could incite “civil unrest” and encourage anti-vaccine sentiment.
“I was never against vaccination,” he told the BBC, confirming that he’d had vaccines as a child, “but I’ve always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
In a wide-ranging interview, his first since he was detained in Melbourne in January, Djokovic addressed speculation about the timing of his positive COVID-19 case in December and discussed his attitude towards the vaccine.
Djokovic was forced to leave Australia in January after the immigration minister personally cancelled his Visa
Djokovic said he hoped vaccination requirements in certain tournaments would change, adding that he was hoping that he “can play for many more years”.
But he also confirmed he was willing to forego the chance to become statistically the greatest male tennis player of all time because he felt so strongly. Djokovic’s rival, Rafael Nadal, has won 21 Grand Slam singles titles – the most of any male competitor.
Asked why, he replied: “Because the principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else. I’m trying to be agreeing with my body as much as I possibly can.”
Djokovic said he had “always been a great student of wellness, wellbeing, health, nutrition,” and that his decision had been partly influenced by the positive impact that factors, such as changing his diet and his sleeping patterns, had on his abilities as an athlete.
He said he was “keeping [his] mind open” about the possibility of being vaccinated in the future, “because we are all trying to find, collectively, the best possible solution to end COVID-19”.
“I was never against vaccination. I understand that globally, everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus and seeing, hopefully, an end soon to this virus.”
Djokovic is, by any measure, a remarkable individual. Raised amidst two wars in the former Yugoslavia, by parents who sold the family gold and negotiated with loan sharks to fund his ambitions, he is fluent in six languages, arguably the greatest player ever to pick up a racket; and – most pertinently – a deeply committed libertarian who believes strongly in individual autonomy.
He has clearly thought deeply about the conflict between individual autonomy and the collective good – and he feels that, as an elite sportsman, his body is his business – in both senses of that word. He says he has an open mind, but as things stand, he will not get the jab.