Aug 25, 2022 - Sports

U.S. Open: Djokovic's exit raises questions about the future of unvaccinated athletes

Tennis player Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts to a basketball event.
Novak Djokovic on the sidelines. Photo: Jurij Kodrun/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic announced Thursday he will not compete at the U.S. Open because he has not received the COVID-19 vaccine and can't travel to the U.S. for the event.

The big picture: Unvaccinated athletes still face potential hurdles to competing in sporting events and leagues around the world, even as public health agencies have eased restrictions for the general public.

Driving the news: Djokovic withdrew his name from the U.S. Open hours before the event's draw was announced.

  • The U.S. requires noncitizens to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in order to receive a visa so they can enter the country, an impediment for Djokovic, CNN reports.
  • The tennis star previously skipped the Australian Open due to its vaccine requirement. A few months later, he won Wimbledon.

What he's saying: “Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open,” Djokovic tweeted. He said he would “keep in good shape and positive spirit and wait for an opportunity to compete again.”

  • The U.S. Open said in a statement Thursday that it does not have its own policy about unvaccinated athletes, "but it will respect the U.S. government's position regarding travel into the country for unvaccinated non-U.S. citizens."
How the sports world is handling COVID-19 now
  • Multiple leagues, organizations and countries still have rules about vaccinations that will impact unvaccinated athletes' ability to compete.

The NFL, which kicks off its regular season in two weeks' time, nixed its COVID-19 protocols for this upcoming season.

  • The league will no longer require players and coaches to wear face masks or coverings regardless of vaccination status, the league said. There also won't be mandatory testing of players, regardless of vaccination status.

The NBA will not allow unvaccinated players to compete in Canada once the season kicks off in October, ESPN reports. Canada requires visitors to the country to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

  • This is the same rule as last season, which stopped players like Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle from competing against the Toronto Raptors.
  • The league will not institute a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, per CBS Sports. It will strongly encourage athletes to get the vaccine, though.

The NHL said it will not require players to be vaccinated in order to compete in the '22-'23 season. The league still encourages players to receive the vaccine and booster shots.

  • The league said it will also allow teams to suspend unvaccinated players who can't cross the border into Canada due to federal and provincial laws without pay for however long they are absent from team events.

MLB players are still unable to enter Canada to play against the Toronto Blue Jays, ESPN reports. Players will not be paid for those games.

Qatar, FIFA and the World Health Organization have encouraged players, fans and attendees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before the 2022 World Cup.

  • The global event requires all ticketholders to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. It's unclear whether or not players will face a vaccine requirement, per AP.
  • Unvaccinated players will need to self-isolate for five days once they arrive in Qatar, The Athletic reports.

Go deeper: Unvaccinated NBA players sidelined by vaccine mandates will lose pay

Go deeper