Tennis Australia board breaks silence to ‘commend’ Craig Tiley following Novak Djokovic saga

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<span>Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

The Tennis Australia board has come out in support of its under-pressure chief executive, Craig Tiley, while acknowledging it “deeply regrets” the distraction the Novak Djokovic deportation saga caused other Australian Open players.

The Jayne Hrdlicka-led board, which has been quiet throughout the two weeks of the scandal, finally broke its silence on Tuesday evening to note it “respects the decision of the immigration minister and the finding of the federal court of Australia” in cancelling Djokovic’s visa and then dismissing his bid to have it restored.

“Tennis Australia has been working closely with both the federal and Victorian government for the past year to deliver a Covid-safe Australian Open for the players, staff, and fans,” the board said in a statement.

“Embarking on a major international sporting event during a global pandemic that continues to evolve and challenge us all, is profoundly demanding for all stakeholders.

Related: Djokovic’s French Open title defence in doubt after Covid pass ruling

“The board and member associations commend the Tennis Australia CEO and the entire Tennis Australia team for their hard work and dedication to delivering a spectacular summer of tennis.”

Tiley, who is also the tournament director, has found himself in the firing line over Tennis Australia’s role in allowing the unvaccinated Djokovic to fly to Melbourne under the belief that a medical exemption approved by TA and a Victorian government independent expert panel would be sufficient to enter Australia.

Tiley, who has not spoken publicly since Djokovic left the country on Sunday night, has faced calls to resign over the crisis which sparked an international diplomatic tit-for-tat and highly charged domestic political finger-pointing.

Australian tennis great John Newcombe has questioned the absence of the board throughout the saga, while former TA president Steve Healy demanded an explanation about what it knew.

“Surely the board were aware of this? They should have been,” Healy told Nine. “It’s such a large reputational risk, not just in terms of the tournament but the relationship with government. If it’s just been run by management, I’d say, why weren’t the board involved?”

The board ultimately has the power to terminate Tiley’s employment but any suggestion it might do so appears to have been quashed.

Tuesday’s lengthy statement – in stark contrast to Sunday’s short and belated tweet – mentioned Tennis Australia’s achievements in staging “one of the world’s greatest sporting events” but also addressed the issue that has overshadowed the first grand slam of the year.

“As the Australian tennis family, we recognise that recent events have been a significant distraction for everyone, and we deeply regret the impact this had on all players,” it said.

“There are always lessons to learn, and we will review all aspects of our preparation and implementation to inform our planning – as we do every year. That process always starts once the Australian Open champions have lifted their trophies.”

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