January 21, 2022

After an 11-day ordeal, tennis star Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia after he lost his final bid to stay in the country and play in the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated against COVID-19.

Djokovic, the competition’s record-holder, was initially approved for a medical exemption by Tennis Australia and the state of Victoria because he tested positive for the coronavirus in December. But border officials rejected the exemption and revoked his visa. Djokovic’s challenge to remain in the country was unanimously dismissed in a court hearing on Jan. 16.

The saga culminated in a flurry of social media posts claiming that Djokovic is the first athlete to be banned because he didn’t “take drugs.”

“Novak Djokovic becomes the first professional athlete in history to be banned from a major sporting competition for not taking drugs,” reads one popular Twitter post.

But he is not the first athlete to be prevented from participating in sporting events for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine, nor is he the first to be stopped from competition for refusing to take certain medications.

It’s also important to note that the tournament didn’t ban Djokovic from playing. He was deported because of Australia’s COVID-19 policies.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

A high-profile example is Brooklyn Nets basketball player Kyrie Irving, who was told in October that he wouldn’t be able to practice or play for the team until he met New York’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

The Nets reversed course about 35 games into the season after a COVID-19 outbreak shortened the roster. Under the new agreement, Irving serves as a part-time player who can participate in most road games but is barred from playing at home in Brooklyn or in away games against the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden due to New York City’s mandate.

NBA players aren’t required to be vaccinated, but they face stringent testing and social restrictions. The league has said that unvaccinated players won’t be paid for games they miss due to their unvaccinated status.

If nothing changes — such as Irving’s unvaccinated status or NYC’s mandate —  and the Nets make the playoffs, it will be the first team to ever try to win a title with a lead player only being allowed to play half of every playoff series.

There are other athletes who have been prohibited from participating in a “major sporting competition” or event for not taking the vaccine or other medication.

There’s professional golfer Charlie Beljan, who said in a now-deleted tweet that he was forced to withdraw from the Professional Golfers’ Association’s Bermuda Championship in October because he “didn’t take the jab.” Beljan didn’t participate due to Bermuda’s COVID-19 policies, not the PGA’s.

South African runner Caster Semenya was ruled ineligible from participating in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo because she refused to take medication for a disorder of sexual development, or DSD, a condition that causes her to have naturally elevated levels of testosterone.

“It’s taking the soul out of my body,” Semenya told the Guardian in April 2021. “They want me to take my own system down. I’m not sick. I don’t need drugs. I will never do that.”

No major U.S. professional sports league has a vaccine requirement for its players, but some sporting organizations do. The most notable being the United States’ Olympic and Paralympic Committee, which announced in September that athletes hoping to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics had to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec.1, 2021. Canada’s committee made a similar announcement in October.

Our ruling

A tweet says that Djokovic is the first athlete to be banned from a major sporting event for “not taking drugs.”

This isn’t accurate. Multiple athletes have been banned, in one form or another, from competing in their sports for refusing to take medication or get the COVID-19 vaccine. Team USA and Team Canada both mandated that athletes be fully vaccinated against the virus for eligibility to compete in the upcoming Winter Olympics.

We rate this False.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.

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Samantha Putterman is a fact-checker for PolitiFact based in New York. Previously, she reported for the Bradenton Herald and the Tampa Bay Times. She is…
Samantha Putterman

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  • You’ve got to be kidding. So he was fourth. He was first to bring in a legal team in to fight for his right to play. And he was banned. By whom is splitting hairs. It appears this went up only to counter the millions of social media posts by those who have had enough of this circus. Tennis is an outdoor sport with the least number of players, as socially distanced as physically possible. Circus.