Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic was granted an exemption to play at the Australian Open in Melbourne this month, prompting a furious reaction from health officials and residents.

Tennis Australia said a medical exemption was granted to Djokovic, the reigning Australian Open champion, after a “rigorous review process” by two independent panels of medical experts, including one appointed by the Victoria Department of Health.

The player, 34, refused to confirm his vaccination status but publicly opposed mandatory vaccinations.

Craig Tiley, Australian Open tournament director, reiterated that all tennis players, fans and staff should be fully vaccinated “unless there is a real reason for an exemption should be given “to ensure the safety of all participants.

He told broadcaster 9News that the exemption was granted to a handful of applicants, including Djokovic, after a review process that went “beyond” what other unvaccinated people entering Australia had to comply with. . “Ultimately, it’s the decision of the medical experts,” he said.

This sparked a strong backlash in Victoria, the host state of the tennis tournament, which only recently emerged from some of the world’s toughest lockdown restrictions and where the government has demanded that some workers be fully vaccinated.

Stephen Parnis, a doctor and former vice president of the Australian Medical Association, said on social media that the decision to allow Djokovic to pay was sending a “appalling message to millions of people” seeking to reduce the risk of Covid- 19. “I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he refuses to be vaccinated, he should not be allowed to enter, ”he said.