Djokovic sponsor Hublot says vaccine is personal choice

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ZURICH, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Watch maker Hublot, a sponsor of Novak Djokovic, believes getting vaccinated is a personal choice, the Swiss luxury group told Reuters in its first comment since the world men's tennis No. 1 was expelled from Australia this month.

The Serbian player, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, was deported on Jan. 16 ahead of the Australian Open after a federal court dismissed his appeal to stay in the country and play the tournament.

Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe said the brand, owned by French luxury conglomerate LVMH (LVMH.PA), was waiting to hear from Djokovic about his experience.

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"We are waiting to see what his position is with regard to all that he went through," he said in an interview.

"The principle of vaccines is that it's something private. We value personal freedom. Everyone can decide. One can be in favour or against. That's our position."

Such sensitive issues raise a dilemma for sponsors who must strike a balance between respecting an athlete's personal freedom and keeping in step with the public mood.

Guadalupe said he believed Djokovic would make a statement at the end of the Australian tournament, which ends on Jan. 30.

"We will define our position then."

Hublot, a sponsor for sporting greats including Pelé, Kylian Mbappé and Usain Bolt, signed up "living legend" Djokovic last August. The player earned $30 million last year from sponsorship tie-ups, according to Forbes.

Another leading Djokovic sponsor, French apparel brand Lacoste, said last week it would contact him to review events in Australia.

Djokovic's other sponsors include carmaker Peugeot, which has declined to comment on the incident, and Austrian lender Raiffeisen Bank International.

The Vienna-based bank, which announced a tie-up with Djokovic in April, said it had agreed on a multi-year partnership with the player on the basis of his strong reputation in central and eastern Europe.

The decision was made "long before the current reporting on Novak Djokovic and his COVID-19 vaccination status and his participation in the Australian Open," it said in an emailed statement on Monday.

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Additional reporting by Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich in Vienna, writing by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Jason Neely and Barbara Lewis

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