Fans at this year's US Open are required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine to gain entry to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Players are not.
Victoria Azarenka wants to know why. The two-time Australian Open champion broached the subject during a press conference on Wednesday at Flushing Meadows. She described the situation as "bizarre."
“I want to start this conversation between our players,” Azarenka told reporters. “Because to me that’s a bit bizarre that fans have to be vaccinated and players are not."
'I don't see the point in stalling it'
Fans have returned to the US Open in full force this year after being shut out in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But they're not allowed on the premises without proof of vaccination, a guideline that aligns with a New York City mandate requiring vaccinations to attend most indoor public gatherings. Some US Open matches are played in roofed stadiums.
Azarenka wants the same rules to apply to players on the court.
"In my opinion it’s inevitable that it will be mandated at some point like other leagues are doing," Azarenka continued. 'I don't see the point of stalling it, really, because we all want to be safe, we all want to continue doing our jobs, and I know there is a lot of discussions about it."
How some U.S. sports leagues approach vaccines
While American sports leagues largely haven't mandated vaccines for players, leagues like the NFL have set up significant disincentives to prompt players to get inoculated. The NBA, meanwhile, reportedly informed the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks that their players are required to be vaccinated to gain entry to their home stadiums in compliance of city regulations. The same goes for the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco.
Azarenka cited resistance among some players as reason why there isn't a mandate. She's not buying that they're speaking from an informed perspective.
“I respect everybody’s opinion as long as it's not conspiracy theory," Azarenka continued. "If you actually have decent knowledge and looked into research and have your facts and stats and research, that's a different conversation.
"But I feel that that part of conversation that, really, you need to be knowledgeable to what you're saying is missing in a lot of players."
Novak Djokovic's anti-vaccine stance
Azarenka didn't name names. But tennis is home to some of sports' most vocal vaccine skeptics, its top men's player Novak Djokovic among them.
Djokovic has railed against vaccines and COVID-19 testing while citing pseudoscience and misinformation. He organized a charity tennis tournament last summer that resulted in several players contracting COVID-19. Competitor Grigor Dimitrov posted an Instagram image from a hospital bed urging people he came in contact with at the tournament to get tested.
Meanwhile, Djokovic's wife Jelena Djokovic drew criticism for sharing a video with her roughly 500,000 Instagram followers promoting the lie that 5G mobile networks are partly to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic.
World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas drew condemnation from the Greek government in August after announcing that he would only take a COVID-19 vaccine if tennis requires it.
"Stefanos Tsitsipas is a great athlete, his skills in sports and his contribution to sports in the country is unquestionable," government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou told reporters in response to Tsitsipas' stance.
"What is at stake, however, is his ability to assess the need for vaccinations or whether the vaccine has been tested for a sufficient period of time. And … he has neither the knowledge nor the studies nor the research work that would allow him to form an opinion about it."
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