Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley says the Commonwealth rejected a request to assess medical exemptions granted to tennis players weeks before they arrived in Australia.

The Australian Open director, speaking for the first time since Novak Djokovic was detained, told The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald he believed the decision to allow quarantine-free travel was a matter for Victoria and that Tennis Australia had been caught in a constant conflict of state and federal advice.

Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley and Novak Djokovic after the player won the 2021 Australian Open.Credit:Getty Images

Tennis Australia and the Victorian government granted a handful of exemptions for unvaccinated players to enter the Open. The process was based on guidelines from the Commonwealth’s peak vaccine advisory body, Mr Tiley said, but tennis officials asked the federal government on two occasions in November to examine each exemption to ensure they would be accepted by federal officials at the border.

“They declined,” he said. “We asked if they could please assess our decisions. We said we’re going to need some help to make sure we’re doing the right thing. We’d be in a different situation today.”

The tennis chief has been under pressure to explain why he advised players they could seek an exemption based on a recent COVID-19 infection after federal Health Minister Greg Hunt wrote to him in late November saying this was not a valid exemption.

Despite Mr Hunt’s advice, Mr Tiley said he believed the Victorian government would approve whether a player would be required to quarantine. This view was informed by a letter from a federal Health Department official in early November saying “exemptions from vaccination will be at the discretion of the state”, as well as correspondence from Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton saying prior infection was grounds for quarantine-free travel.

“We were caught in this constant conflict between state and federal [advice] and this pandemic has highlighted that complexity,” Mr Tiley said.

“We believed that the [Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation] guidelines are what the exemptions [were based on] and it wasn’t the federal government approving the exemptions, it was the state.”

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