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Australian Open 2022: Victoria Azarenka calls for vaccine mandate, Novak Djokovic

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Former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has called for a harder stance on Covid-19 vaccines following Novak Djokovic’s deportation.

Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka has called for the WTA to enforce a harder stance on Covid-19 vaccines following Novak Djokovic’s highly-publicised deportation from Australia.

Djokovic’s dreams of earning his record 21st title were dashed last week when he was deported from Australia over his coronavirus vaccination status after losing a court case to overturn his visa cancellation.

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Azarenka, who contracted Covid-19 last year, is an immensely influential figure in the sport, having rejoined the WTA Player Council in November 2021.

Speaking to reporters after her straight sets victory over Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann, the former world No. 1 threw her support behind a vaccine mandate, suggesting the Djokovic saga could have been avoided if the governing bodies removed any grey areas and enforced a “no jab, no play” policy.

“From my standpoint, it has been very clear,” she said on Wednesday afternoon.

“I believe in science. I believe in getting vaccinated. That is what I did for myself. I don’t want to push my beliefs onto everybody else however, we are playing a global sport that are travelling around the world.

“As an entity, as an association of WTA, that is travelling globally, we still have to respect countries, different countries, different mandates, different legalities of the country.

“Some countries will not allow mandates. I think to impose something legally on the WTA Tour can be a challenge. I think that’s something that we are facing.

“I believe that spending a lot of extra money over this last almost two years now on all the testing, that is a big budget.

“I won’t necessarily say that getting vaccinated, then nobody will be sick, but I think it is a step to hopefully battle against this coronavirus, hopefully bring it down globally.”

Azarenka admitted enforcing a vaccine mandate for female players on tour would be difficult, but pointed to Djokovic’s visa saga as proof the rules needed to be changed.

“I think it would just be helpful for everybody in the world, especially when we are travelling internationally,” she said.

“This could have been prevented, this could have been addressed way earlier than it was. What happened after, I don’t think there was anybody who looked good in any case. That became a bit of a circus.

“I think there should be a really hard look on this situation moving forward. I think that as soon as there is a grey area in the rules that give too much questions, situations like this happen. On certain things I think black and white approach is necessary and in my opinion, this should be the case.“

Spanish phenom Rafael Nadal supported Azarenka’s remarks after his round two triumph, telling reporters: “If everybody’s vaccinated, we are allowed to improve our life on the tour, and most important our life outside of the tour. Of course, I will be always supporting the safer health measures that helps to save lives in this world more than any other thing.”

Meanwhile, Djokovic’s vaccination status may also tarnish any hope of defending his French Open title.

Djokovic, who has refused to get the Covid-19 jab, would be stymied by France’s vaccine pass law which was approved by parliament on Monday and means people need to have a vaccination certificate in order to enter places such as restaurants, cafes, cinemas and long-distance trains.

For ordinary citizens entering France it is not obligatory to be vaccinated, but it will be for those wishing to enter an establishment which has a public attendance (ERP).

Major events like the French Open previously permitted non-vaccinated athletes to compete as they operated a health bubble around the tournament.

While it appears to close the door on Djokovic’s hopes of competing in Paris, the situation may change between now and when the French Open starts in late May, especially considering the French Presidential election takes place in April.

“The rule is simple. The vaccine pass will be imposed, as soon as the law is promulgated, in establishments that were already subject to the health pass,” the French sports ministry said.

“This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice.

“Now, as far as Roland Garros is concerned, it’s in May. The situation may change between now and then and we hope that it will be more favourable. So we’ll see, but clearly there’s no exemption.”

All athletes who wish to compete in France will have to be vaccinated against Covid-19, government sources told AFP on Monday.

— with AFP and Andrew McMurtry

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