The boss of Tennis Australia has privately told his staff the organisation has done “an unbelievable job” in handling the Novak Djokovic affair despite refusing to explain to the public why players were told a prior Covid-19 infection would exempt them from vaccine travel requirements.
The scandal surrounding Djokovic deepened on Saturday, following revelations that Tennis Australia informed players that a prior infection would be a reason to exempt them from Australia’s tough border restrictions. That advice was given despite the health department telling Tennis Australia on two occasions that exemptions did not exist for those recently infected with Covid.
The organisation has largely gone to ground, not answering media queries or responding to calls or emails. But a leaked video of Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley addressing his staff has been obtained and published by News Corp, in which he tells staff the organisation has performed well.
“We’ve chosen at this point not to be very public with it and simply because there is a pending lawsuit related to entry into Australia. Once that has run its course, we’ll be able to share more with you,” he said.
“There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on and a lot of blaming going on, but I can assure you our team has done an unbelievable job and have done everything they possibly could according to all the instructions that they have been provided.”
Tennis Australia has maintained a deliberate silence on the affair, save for a late-night statement issued on Friday night denying that it “misled” anyone by providing such advice.
“We reject completely that the playing group was knowingly misled,” Tennis Australia said. “Informing players they could get into the country on a medical exemption was taken from the Smart Traveller website that Greg Hunt directly referred us to.”
Further details have also emerged about Tiley’s interactions with the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) about exemptions for players either recently infected with Covid or who had only received one dose. The Age reported that Tiley had told Atagi the treatment of such players “goes to the heart of the viability of the Australian Open”.
Djokovic, meanwhile, remains in the Park Hotel, while he waits for Monday’s federal circuit court hearing on his challenge to the visa cancellation. His request to move to a private residence was rejected.
In his pre-tournament press conference, Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios described the treatment of Djokovic as “not really humane” and criticised the media’s reporting.
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Kyrgios has previously been outspoken about the world champion’s approach to Covid-19, but has struck a more conciliatory tone during the current scandal.
“For the sport we need him here, it’s that simple,” he said. “He’s one of the most influential sports people probably of all time. For the sport, I think, as I said, if he’s ready to play and he’s allowed to play, I think it’s in a way good for our sport with all this attention because probably the Australian Open won’t have as many views as it’s ever probably had if he’s able to play.”
“I don’t know. I’m feeling for him now. Like it’s not really humane, is it, what’s going on? I think like it’s just, if this was a normal person they wouldn’t have to deal with all this sort of media side of bullshit.”
Kyrgios also suggested the scandal would fire up Djokovic, saying he does not want to face the world No.1 if he plays in the tournament.
“If he’s allowed to play the Australian Open, I don’t want any bar of him. I reckon he’s going to be pissed off. He’s going to be very determined to play well, and stick it to everyone of what’s going on. And I don’t want any bar of that Novak.”
The Australian government is now facing diplomatic spats on two fronts due to its handling of the affair. Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova has left the country voluntarily after having her visa cancelled by the Australian Border Force (ABF) on Thursday.
She was also detained in the Park Hotel, despite having been waved through the border and already having played a pre-tournament match. In an interview with Czech media, she accused Tennis Australia of misleading players.
“Apparently the Australian Tennis Association has misled us, which is annoying. I wanted to focus on tennis, not visas, quarantine. It’s really weird that I spent a week here, played a match … And then they came for me.”
Her treatment prompted a tersely-worded statement from the Czech embassy overnight, saying it would demand answers from the Australian government.
“She held a valid medical exemption from Covid vaccination and until yesterday the Australian authorities had no problem with her stay in the country,” the embassy said. “The Embassy of the Czech Republic in Canberra sent a note to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade asking for a thorough explanation of the situation, an explanation of the circumstances of her detention and an explanation of why our player was taken to a detention hotel.”
Victorian health minister Martin Foley refused to be drawn on the revelations about Tennis Australia on Saturday, saying only that its advice to players was its own matter.
“Tennis Australia deliver an outstanding Australian Open and in very difficult circumstances I look forward to them delivering another great Australian Open,” he said.