Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates winning the Astana Open final against Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas at the National Tennis Center, Astana, Kazakhstan October 9, 2022. — Reuters pic
MELBOURNE, Oct 12 — Russian and Belarusian players will be able to compete at the Australian Open as neutrals while Novak Djokovic would also be welcome to play if he can obtain a visa, tournament director Craig Tiley said on Wednesday.
Tennis authorities banned Russian and Belarusian players from international team competitions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year but allowed them to compete at regular tour events.
The French Open and US Open Grand Slams allowed them to compete as neutrals, though Wimbledon imposed an outright ban.
“At this point, Russian and Belarusian players will be eligible to play in the Australian Open,” Tiley told reporters.
“The only difference will be that they cannot represent Russia — cannot represent the flag of Russia.
“They cannot participate in any activity such as the anthem of Russia and they have to play as independent players under a neutral name.
“But they will be welcome to the Australian Open in January.”
Belarus has been used as a staging ground for Russia’s invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.
Tiley said nine-times Australian Open champion Djokovic would also be eligible if he is able to overturn a visa ban as part of his deportation in January.
The Serbian great was kicked out of the country for not being vaccinated against Covid-19 and is barred from re-entering until 2025, though the Australian government can waive the ban at its discretion.
Tiley said he had not had any contact with the government about Djokovic and that Australian Open organisers could not lobby on the Serb’s behalf.
“At this point … Novak and the federal government need to work out the situation and then we’ll follow any instruction after that,” Tiley said.
“It’s not a matter we can lobby on. It’s a matter that definitely stays between the two of them and then depending on the outcome of that we would welcome him to the Australian Open.”
Djokovic, who also missed the US Open over his vaccination status, said last month he was waiting for “positive news” from Australian authorities.
However, Australia’s former Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, an opposition lawmaker, said this week she was opposed to the government lifting Djokovic’s ban, saying it would be a “slap in the face” for Australians who have been vaccinated. — Reuters