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Djokovic row: DUP MLA’s support for tennis star sparks criticism

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A woman holds up a picture of Novak Djokovic, reading: ‘Victory!’ during a protest in Belgrade. Credit: Darko Vojinovic/AP

A woman holds up a picture of Novak Djokovic, reading: ‘Victory!’ during a protest in Belgrade. Credit: Darko Vojinovic/AP

AP

A woman holds up a picture of Novak Djokovic, reading: ‘Victory!’ during a protest in Belgrade. Credit: Darko Vojinovic/AP

A DUP MLA who has consistently spoken out against Covid-19 restrictions has been criticised for a tweet in support of tennis star Novak Djokovic, who is being held in an Australian immigration detention centre.

Djokovic, who it has been revealed in court documents is unvaccinated, is fighting against the country’s Covid border rules in order to defend his Australian Open title.

The world number one tennis player flew into Melbourne last week but was detained in an immigration centre.

Sharing a picture of Djokovic to his 8,915 Twitter followers on Saturday, DUP MLA Paul Frew said it was his view that the Serbian has already won the Australian Open “even if he doesn't strike a ball with his racket”.

“His stand for individual choice and informed consent will now highlight the draconian and authoritarian laws of Australia around the world to a new audience,” added the North Antrim MLA.

Djokovic is currently appealing against a decision by Australia’s federal government to cancel his visa.

The 34-year-old’s legal team has claimed a recent Covid-19 infection has given him a valid medical exemption to the country’s strict border rules.

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Non-double vaccinated foreigners are banned from entering Australia, unless they have a medical exemption.

Mr Frew’s tweet received both praise and criticism, as the Djokovic situation has divided opinion across the world.

Responding to a tweet which pointed out to Mr Frew that while Djokovic is within his rights not to take the vaccine, it is also Australia’s right not to grant him entry to the country, he said he was more concerned about what the government “are doing with their own citizens”. “This will highlight this,” added Mr Frew. “On Djokovic, he said months ago he would relinquish his place in open, he got exemption.”

The Alliance Party’s health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA, said it “remains a matter of concern” that the DUP is incapable of speaking with a “clear and united voice” in favour of encouraging as many people as possible to get vaccinated.

“This is fundamentally a matter for the Australian authorities,” she added.

“However, the important point for all of us is that any rules which do apply must apply equally to everyone.”

The SDLP’s health spokesperson Colin McGrath MLA said Mr Frew is not just content in “undermining the public health message” in Northern Ireland, but now seems intent on “embarrassing himself on the international stage”.

“Everyone eligible should get a vaccine as soon as possible,” he stated.

The DUP and Mr Frew were both contacted for a response.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has previously said his party supports public health guidance around Covid-19 and wants people to follow it.

However, DUP politicians such as Mr Frew, Sammy Wilson MP and Jim Wells MLA, have been accused of undermining the party’s message with their views on restrictions and vaccines. Mr Frew previously called Stormont’s Covid regulations “draconian”, while East Antrim MP Mr Wilson has spoken out against the use of face coverings and lockdowns. Meanwhile, Mr Wells has refused to take the vaccine.

Djokovic’s case was due to be heard overnight, UK time. Tennis Australia said it must know any decision by Tuesday ahead of the open beginning on January 17.


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