Tennis legal issues with WTA Tour vaccine mandate, Azarenka says

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – There are legal issues with the WTA imposing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on anyone on the women’s professional circuit, Victoria Azarenka, former world number one and councilor of tour players, said Wednesday.

Mandates have been proposed in some quarters after the issue of vaccinations dominated the headlines for a week before Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia on Sunday night.

Azarenka said she believed vaccinating was the socially responsible thing to do, and that the WTA rightly encouraged it, but there were issues with a mandate, however useful it might be.

“I believe in science. I believe in vaccination. I did that for myself,” she told reporters after reaching the third round of the Australian Open with a 6-1 6-2 win over Jil Teichmann.

“As an entity, as an association of WTA, traveling worldwide, we still have to respect countries, different countries, different mandates, different legalities of the country.

“Some countries do not allow mandates. I think it can be a challenge to legally impose anything on the WTA Tour. I think that’s something we’re dealing with.”

Djokovic and a handful of other unvaccinated players and officials arrived in Australia this month and last had medical clearances that should allow them to enter the country without being vaccinated.

Azarenka said she thought the whole affair could have been prevented by having much clearer rules.

“I don’t believe there was anyone out there who at least looked good. It became a bit of a circus,” she says.

“I think this situation needs to be looked at very closely in the future. I think once there’s a gray area in the rules, it’s a bit too many questions, and situations like this happen.

“I think a black-and-white approach is necessary on certain points.”

The WTA has not responded to requests for comment about vaccine mandates.

Azarenka said discussions were underway over how to replace Chinese events on the WTA calendar after the tour suspended tournaments in the country over safety concerns for former doubles number one Peng Shuai.

“The trial is clearly undisclosed at this point because there are no certainties or decisions or substitutions involved,” she said.

“As an association, a women’s association, I am proud that we support our players. I think something like that should be self-evident. The situation is really unfortunate. We all hope for the best.”

(Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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