Novak Djokovic's French Open title defence under threat after Covid pass ruling

French sport minister Roxana Maracineanu announced that athletes travelling from abroad would not be exempt from France's Covid pass.

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Novak Djokovic may not be allowed to play in the French Open later this year, after a court ruled that all athletes will need to be vaccinated in order to compete in French sport events.

French sport minister Roxana Maracineanu announced that athletes travelling from abroad would not be exempt from France's Covid pass.

She wrote on Twitter: “The vaccination pass has been adopted. As soon as the law is promulgated, it will become mandatory to enter public buildings already subject to the health pass (stadium, theatre or lounge) for all spectators, practitioners, French or foreign professionals".

Earlier in January, Maracineanu had suggested athletes may be exempt from the pass under a "bubble" system, but the French government have now abandoned any such plans.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic has returned home to his native Serbia after he was deported from Australia and prevented from defending his Australian Open tennis title.

A plane carrying the number one ranked player touched down in the capital on Monday, closing at least the first chapter in a dizzying drama that has resonance in the world of elite sports, Australian pandemic politics and the polarised debate over coronavirus vaccines.

A handful of fans waving the Serbian flag greeted him at Belgrade’s airport.

Djokovic has an almost iconic status in Serbia, and many there felt he was poorly treated by Australia.

Djokovic is also the defending champion at Wimbledon, which begins in late June.

But so far, England has allowed exemptions from various coronavirus regulations for visiting athletes, if they remain at their accommodation when not competing or training.

The US Tennis Association, which runs the US Open, has said it will follow government rules on vaccination status.

It is also not clear when Djokovic could head back to Australia.

Deportation can lead to a three-year ban on returning to the country, although that can be waived, depending on the circumstances.

For now, a warm welcome awaits Djokovic, who has overwhelming support in his native Serbia where his closest family live.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has accused the Australian government of “harassing” the top-ranked tennis star and urged him to return home.

“God bless you Novak,” read one of the banners held by the fans at the airport as he was whisked through passport control and customs and then driven by his brother Djordje to his apartment in Belgrade.