Why Tiley’s handling of Djokovic episode is raising eyebrows at IOC

Craig Tiley’s failure to engage adequately with the federal government over Novak Djokovic’s vaccination status before this month’s Australian Open has elicited a degree of schadenfreude from Olympic officials, particularly in light of the Tennis Australia chief’s comments that COVID-19 preparations for the Tokyo Games were not “rigorous”.

A triumphant Tiley declared after last year’s Australian Open: “I’ve seen the playbook for the [Tokyo] Olympics and looked at it carefully … we’ve had a far more rigorous program than is being proposed at the Olympics.”

Tiley questioned the COVID-19 protocols put in place in Tokyo by Australia’s John Coates, chief of the Co-ordination Commission for the Games, saying, “Vaccination is not the silver bullet”.

With federal Health Minister Greg Hunt warning Tiley in November that a recent COVID-19 infection was not grounds for a medical exemption for an athlete, it would appear vaccination is the magic weapon.

Tiley oversaw 1200 players and support staff at the 2021 Australian Open. Before the Tokyo Olympics, which catered for almost 10 times that number of athletes, he said, “With the experience we’ve had, I can’t see it working”.

He doubled down on his comments on ABC radio, saying of his tournament crisis management team, “If you got that team and popped it into Tokyo and asked them to put the Games together, they’d do it seamlessly in my view because we’ve had so much practice.”

Novak Djokovic with Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley at the Australian Open in February last year.Credit:Getty Images

The Tokyo Games were an incredible success. Very few athletes and officials tested positive to COVID-19, despite 5500 daily new cases outside the Olympic Village in Tokyo.

And Olympic officials are now asking where Tiley’s crisis management team was in negotiations with the federal government when it guaranteed that unvaccinated players, such as No.1 drawcard Djokovic, could compete at the Australian Open.

The consequences for the 20-time grand slam winner, should he be deported, are extreme. It could trigger a knock-on effect, with other countries, such as the US, barring him for three years.

Tennis is an Olympic sport and no Australian Olympic Committee official is willing to comment on the record, but Tiley’s past words and current predicament have raised eyebrows at International Olympic Committee headquarters.

Furthermore, IOC heavies, under pressure for choosing Beijing to host next month’s Winter Olympics despite criticism of its human rights record, point out that recent rioting in Kazakhstan should be taken into consideration.

Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, lost the bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing by a vote of 44 to 40.

The bid was championed and chaired by the former Kazakhstan prime minister Karim Massimov, who pitched Almaty’s candidacy to the IOC at a technical presentation in Lausanne in June 2015 before heading the Kazakh delegation at the IOC session in Kuala Lumpur.

Massimov has since been arrested for treason and detained, while there was widespread rioting and protests in Kazakhstan last week after fuel prices doubled.

Almaty and other cities in the former Soviet nation were placed in a state of emergency in response to the protests. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent 3000 troops into Kazakhstan to put down the uprising.

Now, with orders from Kazakhstan Prime Minister Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to shoot rioters on sight, IOC officials are claiming Beijing is a safer place for athletes than Almaty.

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