Nick Kyrgios has backtracked on comments supporting unvaccinated tennis players, saying it would not be “morally right” to let them play at the Australian Open.
The 26-year-old generated headlines in Australia on Tuesday morning after using his podcast, No Boundaries, to call for the cancellation of his home grand slam in 2022 to limit the risk of a new outbreak in Melbourne.
He also said it was “morally wrong” to force athletes to get vaccinated.
“I don’t think the Aus Open should go ahead, just for the people in Melbourne – you’ve got to send a message,” Kyrgios said. “How long did [Melbourne] do in lockdown? Two hundred and seventy-five days or something?”
But on Tuesday afternoon Kyrgios rowed back on his remarks via a video post on his Instagram account.
“To say that I’d want the Australian Open cancelled, I think that was the sentence that got taken out of context,” he said.
“It’s more so for the people of Melbourne who have gone through hell and back.
“I think it’s been … nearly 300 days of lockdown and your freedom has been, you know, taken away from you. I don’t think it’s morally right to accept players from overseas that aren’t vaccinated to come into our country.”
The tournament is due to go ahead as planned, starting on 17 January, but there is still uncertainty as to whether players who have not been vaccinated or won’t reveal their vaccination status will be allowed to compete.
Authorities are yet to reveal final rulings over a vaccination policy for players – they are likely to be presented to Tennis Australia in the coming week – even though Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, is standing firm on his state’s stance that no exemptions will be given to unvaccinated athletes.
The World No 1 Novak Djokovic, who would be aiming to win a fourth straight Australian Open, has refused to reveal whether he has taken the vaccine and his appearance at Melbourne Park remains in doubt.
On his podcast, Kyrgios had indicated he supported those players who have not had the jab or were unwilling to disclose their vaccination status. He expressed sympathy in particular for Djokovic and the Melbourne-born basketball star Kyrie Irving, who has missed the start of the NBA season due to his refusal to have the vaccine.
Kyrgios was an outspoken critic of Djokovic after last-year’s ill-fated charity event, the Adria Tour, which ended with the Serb and other high-profile players testing positive for Covid-19.
“Kyrie, Novak … these guys have given so much, sacrificed so much,” he said.
“They are global athletes who millions of people look up to. I just think it is so morally wrong to force someone to be vaccinated. I’m double vaccinated but I just don’t think it’s right to force anyone and say, ‘You can’t come and play here because you’re not vaccinated.’
“There are other solutions around it, [such as] to get tested every day. In the States I know they’ve got rapid tests, and it’s coming to Australia. It’s 85% success rate, you wait 15 minutes, you get a negative test and then you’re allowed to play.”
Victoria’s sports minister, Martin Pakula, rejected Kyrgios’s call to cancel the tournament and said he found the player’s comments confusing.
“I really like Nick Kyrgios and I cheer for him every time he plays and I certainly don’t want to have a beef with Nick Kyrgios but I actually couldn’t follow the logic of his comments,” Pakula said.
“We’ve had a long lockdown so the Australian Open shouldn’t proceed? I’m not sure I follow that. I think the opposite applies. Melburnians, Victorians and, frankly, all Australians, are absolutely gagging for major events.
“Our economy needs it, our state psyche needs it. It’s a global grand slam, it’s going to go ahead.”