France says Djokovic will be allowed to play at Roland Garros

PARIS, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic will be allowed to play in the French Open later this year even if he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, France’s sports minister said on Friday.

Australia's decision to revoke a visa here Djokovic had been granted on the basis of a medical exemption ahead of the Australian Open in Melbourne has stirred furore, pitting those who say he should never have been offered entry against his supporters.

France does not bar unvaccinated people from entering its territory but imposes tougher restrictions than on those who have had the shot.

Sports minister Roxane Maracineanu said International Tennis Federation protocols at major events meant an unvaccinated player would be entitled to enter France and participate in Roland Garros, which begins in May.

As the Omicron variant drives a surge in COVID-19 around the world, public frustration has mounted towards unvaccinated people in France and elsewhere. President Emmanuel Macron this week said he wanted to “piss off” the unvaccinated by making their lives difficult to spur them into getting the shot.

Macron’s opponents accused him of using language ill-suited to a president and seeking to bolster his credentials ahead of April’s election, although analysts said his words would resonate with many people.

Djokovic, 34, has consistently refused to disclose his vaccination status, while publicly criticising mandatory vaccines. He has not revealed the grounds for the exemption.

“He would not follow the same organisational arrangements as those who are vaccinated,” Maracineanu told FranceInfo radio. “But he will nonetheless be able to compete (at Roland Garros) because the protocols, the health bubble, allows it.”

Reporting by Richard Lough; editing by Barbara Lewis