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expert reaction to Novak Djokovic situation in Australia (re COVID-19 vaccination status and medical exemption)

A few journalists have asked us about this today, so here is a comment from Professor Jonathan Ives in case useful.


Prof Jonathan Ives, Professor of Empirical Bioethics, University of Bristol, said:

“The Australian government is entirely correct to apply their policy consistently.  This is not at all about whether or not one agrees with vaccines or vaccine mandates, or even about famous sports personalities setting a ‘good’ example.  It is about the rights and wrongs of making exceptions to rules.  These rules should apply to everyone equally, and exceptions can and should only be made for relevant reasons, according to fixed and transparent criteria.

“Exceptions to an actual vaccine mandate would have to be based on morally relevant criteria, and might only be justified if, for example, a person has a legitimate medical exemption.

“But this kind of exemption is only really relevant for people who have no choice but to engage in activities for which the vaccine is mandated.  If I have no meaningful choice but to move to Australia, and if vaccines are mandatory to get in, it is reasonable to ask to be exempt if taking the vaccine would put my health at risk.  But this not what we are talking about here.  Even if Mr Djokovic has a legitimate medical reason for not taking the vaccine, that does not mean he should be entitled entry into a country that requires vaccination.  Mr Djokovic does not have to enter the country, he merely wants to.  Nobody is making him enter Australia, and nobody is making him take a vaccine.  He has a choice, and can make that choice freely, according to what it most important to him.  He might not think that is good choice to have to make, and he clearly wants to avoid having to make it – but few of us have the privilege of deciding what choices we are confronted with.

“Another reason for making an exception could be if a person has something to offer that is so beneficial and important to the country that it outweighs the many negative consequences of breaking the rule.  Sadly for Mr Djokovic, and with the greatest respect for his skill, being very good at hitting a ball with tensioned string is probably not beneficial, or important, enough right now to set a precedent like this.  If an exception is made for Mr Djokovic then, logically, many more exceptions would have to be made for others, including sports stars and individuals with other talents.

“Mr Djokovic’s entry into Australia, so far as I can see, would only really benefit him and, great as it is to see the world’s best players competing, supporting public health and avoiding setting dangerous precedents should surely take priority.  It is not vital, or arguably even important in any meaningful sense, that he – or any other individual – plays in this tournament.  This is, to my mind, an example of a privileged person demanding exceptionalism, and it should rightly be refused.”



All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:



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