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'Political agenda at play': Tennis Australia head under pressure over Djokovic saga

Author
news.com.au,
Publish Date
Mon, 17 Jan 2022, 11:14am
Nine-time champion Novak Djokovic and Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley. Photo / Getty
Nine-time champion Novak Djokovic and Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley. Photo / Getty

'Political agenda at play': Tennis Australia head under pressure over Djokovic saga

Author
news.com.au,
Publish Date
Mon, 17 Jan 2022, 11:14am

Australian Open boss Craig Tiley is under pressure to keep his job after Novak Djokovic was deported on Sunday night. 

The world No. 1 lost his final legal challenge when a full bench of the Federal Court of Australia denied his effort to overturn immigration minister Alex Hawke's decision to cancel his visa. 

Djokovic came to Australia nearly two weeks ago thinking he would be able to play in the year's first grand slam because he had a medical exemption, given to him after he contracted Covid-19 in the past six months. But his positive test result in December wasn't deemed sufficient and after two court battles within a week, he was on a plane out of Melbourne on Sunday. 

The blame game has been in full swing throughout this ordeal. Some say Djokovic must accept responsibility for not getting vaccinated and others have blasted the federal government for the ham-fisted way the saga has played out. 

Tennis Australia (TA) is also in the firing line and Tiley is now facing questions about his role in giving Djokovic the green light to come to Australia. After two independent medical panels – appointed by TA and the Victorian government – agreed Djokovic met the requirements for a vaccination exemption, Tiley and the Serbian thought they were in the clear. 

But the federal government controls the borders and it never signed off on anything, so when Djokovic touched down in Melbourne, he was refused entry. 

Bombshell letters from Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to TA in November, clearly explaining contracting Covid in the past six months was not a valid reason to acquire a medical exemption, were a terrible look for Tiley and the sport's governing body, who pushed ahead anyway with plans to draw Djokovic Down Under. 

Perhaps the most damning assessment of the situation came from Canadian tennis star Vasek Pospisil on Sunday night. Pospisil, who alongside Djokovic helped form the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) in 2020, said his friend would have been happy to stay home, had it been made clear to him he didn't meet the criteria for a medical exemption. 

"Novak would never have gone to Australia if he had not been given an exemption to enter the country by the government (which he did receive; hence Judge Kelly's initial ruling)," Pospisil tweeted. 

Novak Djokovic has been deported from Australia after breaching Covid 19 requirements. Photo / AP 

"He would have skipped the Australian Open and been home with his family and no one would be talking about this mess. 

"There was a political agenda at play here with the elections coming up which couldn't be more obvious. This is not his fault. He did not force his way into the country and did not 'make his own rules'; he was ready to stay home." 

You can argue Djokovic should have accepted his arrival was going to cause drama and stayed home anyway but Pospisil makes it clear he would have kept away if given an indication there would be issues at the border. 

Although Pospisil alleged Djokovic has been used as a political pawn, his comments shine a light on Tiley and TA's involvement in this mess. The federal government never said it would let Djokovic in, but Tiley gambled and must have provided assurances to the world No. 1 he would be okay. 

Djokovic and Tiley are close – the tennis player has won nine Australian Open titles after all – and it's hard to imagine he would have boarded a plane had he not been given a thumbs-up from the TA boss. 

Tiley has said previously TA was given "conflicting information" on an ever-evolving situation and the Department of Home Affairs refused requests to check unvaccinated players' applications before they hopped on planes to come to Australia. 

But if TA wasn't 100 per cent sure unvaccinated players who had been infected with the virus could star in the Australian Open, that should have been made clear to those hoping to compete. 

A transcript of Djokovic's interview with Border Force officials when he was originally detained at Tullamarine Airport shows he was shocked to find out his visa might be cancelled. He repeatedly claimed he'd been given the all-clear to arrive from TA and the Victorian government, saying he had the paperwork to prove it and had filled out everything he'd been asked to. But it wasn't enough. 

Sure enough, many were pointing the finger at Tiley on Sunday. Former professional Jamie Hampton tweeted: "I think TA and Tiley have done a great job with the #AustralianOpen over the years, but this is exactly right. everyone knew ND's beliefs and attitude about the vaccine (which he is free to have), but it was TA and Tiley that said, 'okay, how can we make it happen?' 

"TA and Tiley aided and abetted. They bear a *significant* amount of responsibility for this, and it's being overlooked because the feds played to win for political reasons and, therefore, they look like the villains." 

UK sports journalist Chris Jones tweeted: "Novak Djokovic has a support group to ensure he can concentrate on tennis. What they cannot do is protect him from himself. No player is bigger than the sport - something @AustralianOpen chief Craig Tiley doesn't recognise #nowinners." 

TV presenter Tony Harris said "Tiley should be on the plane with" Djokovic while journalist Krishna Chandra wrote: "Tiley sought a loophole. Djokovic, just as he did in 2020, thought he was bigger than the pandemic, and Tiley made him bigger than the AO. He gambled on finding a way to allow Djokovic to have his cake & eat it too. Tiley hoped no one would call his bluff." 

American tennis reporter Christopher Clarey weighed into the situation on Sunday morning, before Djokovic had officially been kicked out of the country. 

"It's going to come down to what did he (Tiley) know and when did he know it? And what did he do and when did he do it?" Clarey told Offsiders. 

"Craig needs to come out and give a thorough accounting and the whole timeline here and how things were done." 

Fellow Offsiders panellist Georgina Robinson said: "He (Tiley) definitely needs to have a good hard look in the mirror. 

"He has been an enormously successful director of the Australian Open, it is what it is because of Craig Tiley's efforts but this is an enormous controversy, an enormous blunder. 

"But not only Tiley. I think it's correct that the board of Tennis Australia really needs to take account as well ... Craig Tiley would not have made any single call without consulting his board and without having the full backing of his board." 

- by James Matthey, news.com.au