Unvaccinated players can compete at Australian Open: leaked email

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Novak Djokovic wins 2021 Australian Open
Novak Djokovic wins 2021 Australian Open

Unvaccinated players will be allowed to compete at the Australian Open but must do 14 days in quarantine, according to a leaked WTA email on Monday, although a government official insisted the matter was "not settled".

The rules would also likely apply to the men's tour, leaving the door open for world number one Novak Djokovic to defend his title at Melbourne Park in January.

The email to players from the women's governing body was leaked to New York Times tennis writer Ben Rothenberg, who posted it on Twitter, and contradicts officials' earlier statements implying unvaccinated players would not be granted visas.

The email said that players fully inoculated against coronavirus would not have to quarantine or remain in bio-secure bubbles, enjoying "complete freedom of movement".

Unvaccinated players can come to Australia but would have to undergo two weeks' mandatory hotel quarantine and submit to regular testing, it stated.

"We feel the need to reach out to you all to clear up false and misleading information that has recently been spread by other parties about the conditions the players will be forced to endure at next year's Australian Open," the email read.

"Because Victoria's vaccination rate will hit 80 percent at the end of the week and 90 percent next month, it has been confirmed that conditions for players at the Australian Open will improve significantly."

Vaccinated players could arrive any time after December 1, must have a negative test within 72 hours of departing for Australia and test again within 24 hours of arrival. Otherwise, there will be no restrictions, the email said.

Tennis Australia told AFP it was "optimistic that we can hold the Australian Open as close to pre-pandemic conditions as possible".

"We are working with the Victorian and federal governments on the conditions for players at Australian Open 2022 and look forward to having the details confirmed soon," it added.

The apparent move to allow unvaccinated players into Australia contradicts comments from senior government officials last week, including Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who said "every visitor to Australia will need to be double vaccinated".

Still talking

Victoria state Sports Minister Martin Pakula insisted Monday that the vaccination requirements were "not settled yet".

"We're still talking to the Commonwealth (national government) about whether the rule for international unvaccinated arrivals is either 14 days quarantine or they're not coming into the country at all," he said in response to the leaked email.

Nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic is one of many players who have refused to share their vaccination status, casting doubt over whether he will defend his title.

"I don't know if I'm going to go to Australia," he told Serbian newspaper Blic last week, refusing to say whether he was inoculated, calling it "a private matter".

Reports have put the vaccination rate for tennis players at between 50 and 60 percent, but Pakula spoke with Australian Open chief Craig Tiley on Monday and he believed they were much higher.

"I understand from my chat with Craig Tiley this morning that the vax rate for players is rising pretty quickly now and it's near enough to 80 percent."

Melbourne is in Victoria state, which on Friday emerged from one of the world's most prolonged series of Covid lockdowns, in total more than 260 days since the pandemic began.

Despite still recording about 1 500 daily cases, the state's premier on Sunday said big crowds were expected to be permitted at sporting events soon, suggesting more than 80 000 could attend the Boxing Day cricket Test between Australia and England.

This year's Australian Open was hit hard by the pandemic with all players going through two weeks of quarantine, while crowds were restricted and a five-day snap lockdown called mid-event.

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