'Anti-vax' tennis fans criticised for booing official's Covid speech at Australian Open final

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Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the Open trophy after winning his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev  - Reuters
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the Open trophy after winning his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev - Reuters

Fans at the final of the Australian Open men’s tennis tournament booed a senior tennis official on Sunday after she made a speech that praised the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination program.

The booing and jeering from sections of the crowd appeared to be in support of the tournament's winner, Novak Djokovic, who caused controversy last year by saying that he was reluctant to have any Covid vaccination.

The Serb-born sportsman, who is ranked world number one, then did an exhibition tour of Croatia and Serbia that resulted in several players, including himself, testing positive for Covid-19.

After his victory on Sunday against fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev, which secured his ninth title at the Australian Open and his 18th Grand Slam title, Tennis Australia president Jayne Hrdlicka made a speech to the crowd at the Rod Laver Arena praising the “extraordinary sacrifice” that had been made by the public during the pandemic.

Heckling then broke out when she mentioned the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, forcing Ms Hrdlicka to pause at one point and say: "When you’re finished."

The booing prompted widespread condemnation on social media.

“Did the crowd just boo vaccinations? Is it because they are Djokovic fans and he’s a bit anti-vax?" asked Michael Slezak, a science reporter with Australia's ABC news, in a post on Twitter. "This crowd is messed up."

Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates winning his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev - Reuters
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates winning his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev - Reuters

Rennae Stubbs, a former Australian tennis star, added on Twitter: "These fans booing are disgraceful! Honestly!!! Grow up!"

Mr Djokovic sparked controversy last April when he said in a Facebook chat with several other Serbian athletes that he was “personally …opposed to vaccination” and “wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel”.

In August, he tempered his position somewhat, telling The New York Times: “I am not against vaccination of any kind, because who am I to speak about vaccines when there are people that have been in the field of medicine and saving lives around the world”.

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