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DHS denies vaccine waiver for Novak Djokovic; senators implore Biden to intervene; Indian Wells and Miami Open on the line

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security denied tennis champion Novak Djokovic's vaccine waiver request, making him ineligible to compete in the Indian Wells Masters and the Miami Open later this month, according to a letter sent by Florida's two Republican senators.

"We urge you to promptly grant Mr. Djokovic a waiver to the vaccine mandate for international travelers to enable him to compete in the Miami Open," Senators Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote in a letter to President Biden Friday, citing both scientific and economic grounds for their request.

The world's top men's singles player will not be permitted to play in the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in California next week nor in the Miami Open later this month in Florida unless government authorities shift course and grant the waiver.

The Florida senators noted in their letter that President Biden himself declared in September 2022 that the pandemic is over. They further noted that Dr. Anthony Fauci has acknowledged the limited efficacy of vaccines in protecting against pathogens like the novel coronavirus.

"Mr. Djokovic is a world-class athlete in peak physical condition who is not at high risk of severe complications from COVID-19. It seems both illogical and misaligned with your own administration to not grant him the wavier he requests so that he may travel to the U.S. to compete in a professional event," the Florida senators' letter also said.

Djokovic, a Serbian tennis champion with multiple homes in different countries, would not be permitted to travel into the United States under the current vaccine mandate for international travelers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website states non-U.S. citizens "must show proof of being fully vaccinated with the primary series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine before you board your flight to the United States." The site also says "only limited exceptions" apply.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) introduced HR 185 in January. The bill that would end COVID-19 vaccine mandates for international travelers passed the House February 8.

"This vaccine mandate is keeping families separated, hurting our economy, and preventing some of the best athletes in the world from competing here," Massie said in a statement at the time.

"No free country, other than the United States, requires international visitors to prove they've taken the COVID-19 vaccine," Massie also said.

Benjamin Hart, associate editor at Intelligencer reluctantly agreed with Scott, Rubio, and Massie.

"The U.S., alone among major tennis destinations, continues to bar unvaccinated travelers from its shores, despite the unclear-at-best benefit of doing so," Hart said in a piece published Saturday.

"To be clear, Scott and Rubio are far from trusted authorities on COVID. And yet their overall point — that the travel restrictions make little sense in March 2023 — is sound. When these two have a point, it’s a sign that something is amiss."

Djokovic was granted an exception to compete in the Australia Open last year based on a recent recovery from COVID, CNN reported, citing documents published by Australia's Federal Circuit Court. Djokovic took to Instagram to clarify the matter at the time, saying circulating "misinformation" was "very hurtful and concerning" to his family.

The U.S. Open Tennis Championships tweeted Friday that it is "hopeful" Novak will receive the waiver.

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