A leaked document from Tennis Australia (TA) has reportedly shown that the organisation wrongly informed unvaccinated players they could enter the country for the Australian Open if they had caught Covid within the last six months.
The Herald Sun exclusively reported unvaccinated players were told in December they simply needed to prove they'd had the virus within the past six months in order to gain an exemption to enter the country and compete in the year's first grand slam.
That is despite the Federal Government informing Tennis Australia that prior infections were not covered in its guidelines for medical exemptions. Letters from Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt sent to TA in November prove the governing body was aware of this caveat before giving players what is believed to be incorrect advice the following month.
Novak Djokovic's team is believed to have applied for his visa relying on his recent Covid infection — but he had his visa cancelled because this was not a valid reason for a vaccination exemption.
Novak Djokovic may have been misled by Tennis Australia into thinking he was fine to enter the country while unvaccinated. Photo / Photosport
On Friday night it emerged Czech doubles star Renata Voracova had also had her visa cancelled for the same reason as Djokovic and was being detained by Border Force officials at the Park Hotel in Carlton.
That is despite the 38-year-old world No. 80 doubles player having already been allowed into the country and even playing an Australian Open warm-up event in Melbourne.
The Tennis Australia letter said players needed an overseas medical exemption certificate and a second exemption either signed off by an Australian medical practitioner or a panel of expert medical personnel.
"Recent PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection (after 31 July 2021), where vaccination can be deferred until six months after the infection," it said. "If you fall into this category, please provide laboratory PCR result from the first positive test, antibody levels if available and evidence of any previous or subsequent vaccinations if relevant.
"The current ATAGI guidance for those who have had a recent Covid infection is to be vaccinated once you have recovered from the acute illness.
"It may also assist the independent panel if you can provide a letter from your doctor or public health authority as to why you have not received a full dose of an approved vaccination following Covid-19 infection."
The letter was sent after Mr Hunt wrote to TA CEO Craig Tiley at the end of November to say a recent infection would not grant players an exemption.
"The Australian Border Force has advised that people must be fully vaccinated, as defined by ATAGI (the national advisory body on vaccines) to gain quarantine-free entry into Australia," Mr Hunt wrote.
"In relation to your specific questions, I can confirm that people who contracted Covid-19 within the past six months and seek to enter Australia from overseas, and have not received two doses of a Therapeutic Goods Administration-approved or recognised vaccine are not considered fully vaccinated."
Mr Hunt specifically reiterated to Mr Tiley that "major sporting events" were at the mercy of "relevant jurisdiction" and that Tennis Australia should be ensuring they are working alongside Australian Border Force officials to ensure players were eligible to enter.
"We encourage travellers to consult the requirements the state or territory they wish to enter to compete in the Australian Open and summer series lead-in events, to ensure they can meet the relevant entry requirements," he wrote.
"I encourage sporting organisations, including Tennis Australia, to continue to work with the Australian Border Force, state and territory health authorities and venues on Covid-safe plans for events, including for international travel where this is relevant."
It is not known whether Mr Tiley had communicated this to Djokovic or his team prior to the Serbian's attempt to enter the country.
Tennis Australia, which has yet to issue a statement on Djokovic's deportation, has been contacted for comment.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has laid the blame for the Djokovic fiasco squarely at Tennis Australia.
"Tennis Australia said that he could play and that's fine, that's their call, but we make the call at the border," Mr Morrison said on Thursday. "The rules are made known to all travellers.
"They get on a plane based on their own view that they'll be able to meet those requirements and if they can't, well, they can't come in. That's just how the rules work.
"When you get people making public statements about what they say they have and what they are going to do and what their claims are, they're drawing significant attention to themselves.
"Whoever does that, well they can expect to be asked questions more than others. That's how Border Force works. They're not singled out at all."