Surfing great Kelly Slater could be the next big name in sport to be refused the right to compete in Australia, with the federal health minister saying the 11-time champion will not be allowed into the country if he is not vaccinated against Covid.
Slater, who has not publicly disclosed his Covid vaccination status, has aired some controversial views on the Covid vaccine, including an Instagram comment in October that claimed he knew “more about being healthy than 99% of doctors”.
The American tour veteran, who has no medical qualifications, has previously said he is not anti-vaccine but opposed to making vaccination mandatory.
Slater has also been critical of the visa process that ended with the recent deportation of tennis world No 1 Novak Djokovic.
The best surfers in the world are scheduled to arrive in Australia for back-to-back World Surf League events at Victoria’s Bells Beach and Western Australia’s Margaret River in March and April this year.
“I think we’ve been pretty clear with the Novak Djokovic case of no vax, no play,” the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, told Australian broadcaster Channel 9. “It’s a pretty simple message, doesn’t matter what sport, we’re even-handed. I hope he [Slater] gets vaccinated and I hope he competes.”
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said he hoped there would be no repeat of the saga that overshadowed the build-up to the Australian Open and left Djokovic unable to defend his title at Melbourne Park.
“It’s important there is clarity from the commonwealth government about who gets in and who doesn’t,” Andrews said on Thursday.
“That is a good thing. Least you don’t have a soap opera, drama, that wastes everybody’s time. Tennis is bigger than any one person [Djokovic] and we’re seeing that … whether it’s at any of the venues down at Melbourne Park.”
Andrews said it was unlikely the state government would open discussions with the World Surf League over possible exemptions for unvaccinated athletes following the Djokovic debacle.
“That’s kind of a moot point because the commonwealth government have been very clear,” Andrews said. “Clearer now than they have been for a while, which is good.”
On Wednesday, the federal sports minister, Richard Colbeck, said there was “no chance of getting into the country” for Slater if he was unvaccinated.
“I reckon he knows the rules,” Colbeck told Nine newspapers. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a surfer, or a tennis player, a tourist or anyone else, those are the rules. They apply to everyone.
“I don’t like the chances of him competing in Victoria and I’d hate to think of what the chances were of him competing in Western Australia.”