President Joe Biden has been told the “outdated vaccine policy” that caused Novak Djokovic to withdraw from the Indian Wells is costing the US government £67 billion. World no.1 Djokovic will not compete at the Masters 1000 tournament this week after his application for special permission to enter the United States was rejected.
The Serbian icon is perhaps the most high-profile athlete unvaccinated against Covid-19 but had applied to the US government for a waiver that could have seen him make his return to one of the most prestigious events on the tennis calendar.
However, US travel rules state that international visitors need to have proof of vaccination until at least April 10, and Djokovic’s last-ditch attempts for a special early entry have failed.
Djokovic’s absence from the Indian Wells is a significant blow for tournament officials in California and has sparked huge backlash from tennis fans as the US continues to uphold its strict travel policy.
US Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman has now accused the US of an “unforced error” as he used Djokovic’s travel ban as an example of the impact Biden’s ‘antiquated” policy is having on the country’s economy.
Freeman’s statement read: “America’s outdated vaccine policy for international visitors is an unforced error that is contributing to an $80 billion (£67bn) loss in foreign traveller spending.
“Novak Djokovic is merely one of millions of travellers deterred from visiting the United States due to a well-intended but antiquated policy. It is well past time for the United States to join with its peers in Europe, Australia and elsewhere and remove pandemic vaccine requirements for our international guests.”
Only a matter of days ago, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the US Open issued support for Djokovic, claiming they were “hopeful” they would see him compete at the Indian Wells in California.
A US Open tweet on Friday read: “Novak Djokovic is one the greatest champions our sport has ever seen. The USTA and US Open are hopeful that Novak is successful in his petition to enter the country, and that the fans will be able to see him back in action at Indian Wells and Miami.”
Djokovic also missed the US Open last year but is set to return to Flushing Meadows for the summer major with travel restrictions dropped in early April. The 35-year-old, who won his 22nd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, has reiterated that he would rather skip major tournaments than have a Covid vaccination.