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Novak Djokovic says he will skip tournaments rather than get the COVID vaccine

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic he says he'd rather skip tournaments like the French Open than get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Savo Prelevic
AFP via Getty Images
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic he says he'd rather skip tournaments like the French Open than get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Tennis star Novak Djokovic says he won't be getting vaccinated against COVID-19, even if it means he can't play in Grand Slam tournaments this year. But Djokovic also says that his decision is entirely personal and that he shouldn't be lumped in with anti-vaccination activists.

"I understand the consequences of my decision" not to be vaccinated, Djokovic said in an interview with the BBC that was released on Tuesday.

Noting the global nature of his sport, with tournaments held in numerous countries throughout the year, Djokovic said he knows his decision to refuse the vaccine means he can't travel to most tournaments.

"That is the price that I'm willing to pay," he said.

Djokovic said he made his decision based on his status as "an elite professional athlete," one who is very concerned about anything he consumes, from water to food and supplements. But he said he'll keep an open mind about getting the COVID vaccine in the future, adding that it's wrong to consider him an ally of the anti-vax movement.

"I was never against vaccination," Djokovic said, adding that he knows the vaccination effort is an important part of the fight to end the pandemic.

Djokovic has won 20 Grand Slam singles titles, a mark he shares with Roger Federer. The two had been tied with Rafael Nadal, who now owns 21 championships after winning the Australian Open last month. Djokovic had hoped to win that title — but he was deported from Australia over his vaccination status.

In the BBC interview, Djokovic didn't go into deep detail about the events leading up to his trip to Australia, other than to say he hadn't intended to mislead anyone.

"I was really sad and disappointed with the way it all ended for me in Australia," he said. "It wasn't easy."

The world No. 1 men's player also confirmed that he's willing to skip the French Open in late spring and Wimbledon in the summer, if his vaccination status keeps him from traveling or competing.

When asked to explain his reasoning, the Serbian star said, "Because the principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else. I'm trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can."

Despite those views, Djokovic said he's not part of the anti-vax movement. He said he believes that "everyone has the right to choose to act or say whatever they feel is appropriate for them."

"I have never said that I'm part of that movement," he added, calling it an unfortunate misconception that he was aligned with anti-vaccine activists.

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.