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DeSantis urges Biden: Let unvaccinated tennis star Djokovic play in Miami Open

Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic's refusal to get the COVID vaccine has dominated tennis headlines since the 2022 Australian Open.

Gov. Ron DeSantis even proposed allowing the No. 1-ranked tennis player to arrive in Miami by boat to circumvent U.S. refusal to let unvaccinated non-citizens fly into the country.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to allow Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 tennis player, into Florida to play in this month’s Miami Open even though Djokovic refuses to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Current U.S. policy does not allow foreign air travelers into the country if they are not vaccinated. The Department of Homeland Security recently rejected Djokovic’s waiver request.

That policy, enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is expected to end May 11, when the national COVID emergency declaration ends.

DeSantis, a longtime critic of the president’s COVID vaccination policies, proposed allowing Djokovic to arrive in Miami by boat to circumvent the rule. In the Tuesday letter, he asked Biden whether “this method of travel into Florida would be permissible.”

DeSantis asked for an answer by Friday, noting that the 22-time Grand Slam winner’s participation would be a “clear benefit” to the tournament.

On Wednesday, DeSantis amplified on the boat idea during a news conference.

“I would run a boat from the Bahamas here for him. I would do that 100 percent," he said. "I think his [Djokovic's] people are looking at it, and I’m not sure that’s the way they want to come into the country, which I understand. I think it’d be a great."

In response, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre referred questions on vaccinations to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noting the policy keeping Djokovic out of the U.S. was "still in place, and we expect everyone to abide by our country's rule, whether as a participant or as a spectator."

The Miami Open, which begins March 19, is considered one of the biggest tournaments outside of the four grand slams. In February, Djokovic began a record-setting 378th week at No. 1 in the rankings.

He managed to get back to the top of the rankings despite not being able to enter a handful of big tournaments in 2022, including the Australian Open and U.S. Open, because refuses to be vaccinated against COVID-19. He was also denied permission to play in this week’s tournament in Indian Wells, California.

"I urge you to reconsider. It's time to put pandemic politics aside and give the American people what they want - let him play," DeSantis wrote, adding that the “denial is unfair, unscientific and unacceptable."

Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio also wrote letters to Biden asking for a waiver for Djokovic.

I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.