A civil war has erupted within the BBC over claims the broadcaster offered too big a platform to an anti-vax message during his interview with Novak Djokovic.
The tennis star, who returned to the court in Dubai last night, told the corporation’s media editor Amol Rajan last week he will refuse to play at future Grand Slams if it means he has to take a Covid vaccine.
But reports suggest an internal row has begun over how the interview came about and the way it was conducted.
The exchange is said to have been organized by PR agency Freuds, with some sources claiming it was ‘gift-wrapped’ for the BBC, and others claiming it was the result of intense pitching, alongside rival media outlets.
Many inside the corporation are believed to be concerned by the interview, however, including Rajan’s apparent ‘chumminess’ with Djokovic, the Times reports.
One insider said the player wasn’t pressed hard enough on his ‘idiot beliefs’, adding that the situation had ‘Cliff Richard vibes’ – a reference to the BBC’s much-slammed filming of a police raid on the musician’s home in 2014.
Many other viewers also complained that the athlete was afforded too much coverage, although bosses insist the interview was of ‘genuine significance and was of interest to our audience’.
Novak Djokovic told the BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan (pictured) last week he will refuse to play at future Grand Slams if it means he has to take a Covid vaccine
Novak Djokovic made a winning return to tennis after missing out on the Australian Open
In his first interview after his farcical deportation from Australia last month, Djokovic told the BBC that he was not an anti-vaxxer, but took a stand for individual rights by saying ‘my body is more important than any title or anything else’.
But he also vowed to sacrifice his place in French Open twice and Wimbledon if a vaccination is required to compete, saying: ‘That is the price I am willing to pay.’
Djokovic became the world’s most prominent vaccine sceptic in January when Australia kicked him out of the country and refused to let him compete in the tournament in a U-turn, after he was initially let into the country with a medical exemption from having to provide proof of vaccination.
Now, he faces a similar situation ahead of the French Open in May, with the country’s health minister last month saying athletes must be vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid in order to participate in competitions.
Christophe Castaner, head of French president Emmanuel Macron’s LREM ruling party group, said the prospect of an unvaccinated Djokovic defending his title was ‘out of the question’.
Wimbledon has also provided no guarantee that Djokovic will be able to play at this summer’s Grand Slam in South West London, despite there being no UK government rules on athletes requiring vaccines.
But Djokovic was back on the court last night, routinely dispatching Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti 6-3 6-3 to make the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Championships.
The 34-year-old took to the court in the Dubai Duty Free Championships on Monday
Novak Djokovic broke his silence on his Australian visa saga in a bombshell interview with the BBC last week
A crowd of several hundred gave the 34-year-old Serb an adoring guard of honor as he made his way back from the stadium to the player garden immediately afterwards.
He obliged them with selfies and autographs and it seemed that, for a superstar tennis player, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
‘I couldn’t ask for a better reception, I couldn’t be in a better place to restart the season,’ he beamed after mastering blustery winds and a talented but raw opponent.
‘Obviously with everything that was happening, I didn’t know how it’s going to unfold for me. I would say I was equally excited and nervous like before any other match after a long break.’
A BBC spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘The BBC’s exclusive interview is the first time Novak Djokovic has spoken about his position himself, following significant interest in his story from audiences around the globe.
‘This is a story which encompasses key issues such as mandatory vaccination and international travel restrictions.
‘The BBC has always made clear the scientific and medical consensus on vaccination and its effectiveness and we have done so throughout our coverage of this story.
‘There are still many people who choose not to be vaccinated and we think it is important to hear from all sides of the discussion.’
THE DJOKOVIC SAGA – A TIMELINE
Jan 4: Djokovic reveals he is on his way to the Australian Open under a medical exemption. He writes on Instagram: ‘I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!!’
Jan 5: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warns Djokovic he will be on the ‘next plane home’ if his medical exemption is deemed insufficient, and is adamant Djokovic will not receive preferential treatment.
Jan 5: Djokovic’s visa is canceled upon his arrival in Melbourne. The Australian Border Force announces that the player ‘failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements for Australia’.
Jan 6: Djokovic is sent to the Park detention hotel in Melbourne, which is used to house refugees and asylum seekers. He launches an appeal, which is adjourned until 10am on January 10. Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic says Djokovic is the victim of ‘persecution’.
Jan 9: Documents show Djokovic was granted a vaccine exemption to enter Australia because he recorded a positive Covid test in Serbia on December 16. However, social media posts reveal he attended a number of social events in the days following his diagnosis.
Jan 10: Djokovic’s visa cancellation is quashed by Judge Anthony Kelly, who orders the Australian Government to pay legal costs and release Djokovic from detention within half an hour. Djokovic says he is ‘pleased and grateful’ and wishes to ‘stay and try to compete’.
Jan 11: Djokovic’s title defense remains in doubt as the Immigration Minister ponders whether to override the court’s ruling.
Jan 12: Djokovic admits making an ‘error of judgement’ by attending an interview with a French journalist while Covid positive. He adds that, although he attended a children’s tennis event the day after being tested, he did not receive notification of the positive test until after the event. He also attributed an inaccuracy on his declaration form to an error from his agent.
Jan 13: Djokovic is drawn to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.
Jan 14: Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cancels Djokovic’s visa for a second time, saying in a statement it was ‘on health and good order grounds’.
Jan 14: Djokovic immediately launches another legal challenge and in a hastily arranged court hearing it emerges Hawke made his decision due to the possibility of Djokovic stoking anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia.
Jan 15: Djokovic is formally detained again and taken back to the Park hotel.
Jan 16: Three judges at the Federal Court of Australia unanimously reject Djokovic’s challenge and he decides not to take his fight any further and accepts deportation.