Tennis is grappling with a major anti-vax problem as it enters the Olympic tournament in Tokyo, a city rife with COVID-19.
With men’s world No.1 Novak Djokovic leading a push for choice on vaccination – in his case, the choice not to get the vaccine – tennis has been far from a leader on tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
Leading tennis writer Jon Wertheim has now offered an estimate of the vaccination rate on the elite world tours: as low as 30 per cent, despite the global travel and human interaction involved. The Olympic tournament features 128 singles players across the men’s and women’s draws, plus the doubles and mixed doubles players.
“If athletes want to go vegan or lift more weights or scope their knees—or not—great. Their bodies, their choice. The issue here: There is a collective responsibility. If you don’t want to wear a seatbelt; statistically inadvisable, but your choice. Want to drive on the opposite side of the road? Now we have a problem,” Wertheim wrote in his Sports lllustrated mailbag.
“The idea that you would fly, and enter a locker room or interact with ballkids without being vaccinated is the height of selfishness. Even if you have convinced yourself that you’re not getting COVID-19 – or getting a vaccination might cause dead-arm and impact your tennis for a few days – it would be nice to consider the other people you can impact.
“The tours have pushed a message of vaccination; but are constricted by players who are independent contractors. Some events … have offered vaccinations on site. I talked to a coach over the weekend who put the number of vaccinated players at 30 per cent. I heard from a summer tournament worker who claims that “few” players are vaccinated and the locker room staff should act accordingly.
“You’re tempted to say, ‘tennis, man’. But this goes to something much deeper and more distressing.”
Australia’s women’s world No.1 Ash Barty was vaccinated long ago. The new Wimbledon champion is leading the Aussie team at the Tokyo Games.
Djokovic is representing Serbia at the Olympics, in pursuit of a possible Golden Slam. He has won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon this year, with just the Olympics and US Open remaining. He would be the first man to complete the feat if victorious in Tokyo and New York.
The Olympics tennis tournament begins on Saturday. A number of high-profile players, including Coco Gauff, Johanna Konta and Dan Evans, have already been ruled out in advance due to contracting COVID-19.
Olympic athletes are not required to be vaccinated, unless rules are imposed by their specific national governing bodies.