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Novak Djokovic and Russian athletes are likely to compete at the French Open

Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays against Russian Karen Khachanov, during their ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship round of 32 match, in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, on February 23, 2022. (Photo by Karim SAHIB / AFP) (Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images)
Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays against Russian Karen Khachanov, during the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on Feb. 23. Thanks to loosening COVID-19 restrictions in France, Djokovic is set to compete in May at the French Open.

French Open organizers say Novak Djokovic is allowed to compete at Roland-Garros even if he is still not vaccinated when the Grand Slam tournament begins in May — as long as coronavirus restrictions in France remain lifted.

The top-ranked Serbian tennis player was deported from Australia in January after he sought to play in the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated for COVID-19.

"At this stage there is nothing to stop him returning to the courts," French Open Director Amelie Mauresmo said at a news conference Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

Organizers also announced that Russian tennis players, including top-ranked Daniil Medvedev, will be able to compete. However, those athletes can't compete under the Russian flag due to their country's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The French Open is looking set to be the first Grand Slam in two years to operate fully and without any COVID-19 restrictions. On Monday, the French government officially lifted the requirement to be vaccinated in order to access most venues and events in the country.

"Roland-Garros 2022 will be a full-scale event," Mauresmo said. "We really wanted to put on a three-week event. As soon as the qualifiers get under way, we want the public to make the most of the matches and the stadium."

But French Open leaders cautioned the situation can change depending on the COVID-19 landscape in France.

Djokovic has missed out on other recent Grand Slams due to his COVID-19 vaccination status. Vaccination is a requirement to travel in many locations, including host countries of most tennis tournaments.

He made headlines in January for missing the Australian Open after he was deported from the country over a kerfuffle over his vaccination status. The star tennis player said during a BBC interview last month that he would continue to miss other tournaments rather than receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

Djokovic is currently missing the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. which is already in progress, and confirmed last week that he is also set to miss the Miami Open, which starts March 21.

On missing those events, Djokovic tweeted last week, "I knew it would be unlikely I'd be able to travel. The CDC has confirmed that regulations won't be changing so I won't be able to play in the US. Good luck to those playing in these great tournaments."

Organizers at Roland-Garros are continuing the stance against Russia and Belarus by barring those countries from competition, but still allowing their athletes to play under a neutral flag.

The groups that run tennis around the world canceled events in Russia and Belarus and removed the two countries from the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup team competitions.

Many global sporting events and organizations have gone a step further and barred Russian and Belarussian athletes altogether due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Russian athletes were barred from the Paralympic Games by the International Olympic Committee. FIFA has banned Russian teams from participating in its soccer matches and were even removed from the popular FIFA 22 video game. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.