Just a year ago, tennis superstar Novak Djokovic had to leave the country and was not allowed to take part in the Australian Open 2022 due to his lack of corona vaccination. He was even given an entry ban of several years, which has since been lifted. Now there will be no more restrictions – neither for the Serbs nor for all other participants in the first Grand Slam of the year:
In Melbourne, even COVID-19 infected people can now start without informing the tournament organizers about their positive test – provided they feel physically fit enough to quotes the newspaper “The Age” Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley. There is therefore only one recommendation to those players and spectators to stay at home if they do not feel well.
Sports medicine recommends not to compete if you have a corona infection
For sports physician Wilhelm Bloch from the German Sport University in Cologne, this change of heart by the Australians harbors dangers. “I can only appeal to the common sense of the athletes: If they know that they are positive – even if they are symptom-free – they should listen to the classic sports medicine recommendation: An athlete who carries the virus should not take part in any competition .”
The head of the Institute for Cardiovascular Research and Sports Medicine can understand that people are opening up more in sport: “You couldn’t keep these strict regulations. We are in a different situation, most athletes are mostly vaccinated. But I do have a bit of a stomach ache included.”
Was allowed to return to Australia and play tennis there: Novak Djokovic, who was not vaccinated against Corona.
Athletes usually have a good immune system and can actually cope with the virus threat situation quite well because the immune system fights off the viruses relatively quickly. But a process still happens in the body: “The viruses multiply, the immune system reacts so quickly that the body doesn’t actually notice it. And then you put a lot of stress on it with a competition. The stress stimulus is also a trigger for the immune system. And then the body has to cope with both. Then it can happen that the body does not cope so well with the virus, which poses dangers – up to and including myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle).”
The high temperatures in Australia also increase the stress situation – there is always a health risk with these high temperatures. However, the body temperature also increases with an immune system reaction, and athletes easily reach a core body temperature of 40 degrees during the game anyway. “Then you sweat differently, dehydrate more quickly, so the strain on the body is increased,” explains Bloch.
Danger of long-term courses
However, an infected athlete can perform just as well as a healthy athlete, Bloch admits. However, athletes sometimes misjudged their overall physical condition before exercise. “And then the load comes and you boost the whole system and initially get through the load well. But what comes after that, the next day or the day after that – you may then be limited in your regeneration. And in a tournament you actually have a game every two days.”
Wilhelm Bloch, professor at the Institute for Cardiovascular Research and Sports Medicine at the German Sport University Cologne, warns top athletes of the long-term consequences of a corona infection.
According to Bloch, what sports physicians keep seeing in connection with the corona infection are stress problems after starting too early. “The risk is not the myocarditis, but the peculiarity that there are long-term courses. The vaccination offers a certain protection, a reduction of around 10 to 30 percent of the long-Covid risk. “But that still means that a certain danger is there. Athletes suffer more from the consequences of a post-Covid situation, have stress intolerance and are unable to regenerate. You have a charge and then you’re out of order for weeks.”
The fact that most of them have already come into contact with the virus through an infection or vaccination may not necessarily help in this case: “It depends on which variants you were dealing with before.” And in Australia nobody knows whether the new Omikron variant that is raging in China will come along. This seems to be even more infectious.
Australian Open as a model for other sporting events?
The Australian Open is the first major sporting event this year. Other organizers will take a close look and put their Corona regulations to the test. In a low-contact sport like tennis – and in the open air at that – the elimination of corona restrictions could actually work well.
However, sports physician Bloch warns: “If I allow infected people to go into sports without having to say so, I open up the risk of infection for others.” Everyone takes their personal risk, everyone makes their own personal decision. But the responsibility for others remains. “In contact sports, that’s a danger. You have to think carefully about whether you actually take it 1-1 from the Australian Open.”
Things are already going much better for Djokovic this year than in 2022: almost a year after his expulsion, the Serb celebrated his 92nd title in Australia in Adelaide and underlined his top form shortly before the start of the Australian Open. Now tickets are even being sold for his friendlies.
After the cancellation of the Spanish world number one Carlos Alcaraz, he is considered the top favorite. “Standing here is a gift,” said Djokovic, visibly relieved, in his winner’s interview on hard court. “It felt like playing at home.” Just a year ago, Australia seemed out of reach for him for years to come. Now Djokovic’s way to a possible Grand Slam title number 22 is clear again.