Novak Djokovic defends holding charity event in Serbia amid coronavirus pandemic

Novak Djokovic kicked off his charity tennis tour on Friday in Belgrade, Serbia, the first of several legs in Europe. 

Yet, despite the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, fans seemed to attend the event normally. 

Thousands of fans packed the makeshift stands for the event at his Belgrade tennis club, and very few were seen wearing masks.

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

Djokovic, however, defended the decision to proceed with the event.

“We have different circumstances and measures, so it’s very difficult to think of international standards,” he said, via the Associated Press.

There were more than 7.5 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide as of Friday night, according to The New York Times, and more than 424,000 deaths attributed to it. Serbia had more than 12,000 confirmed cases, though just 252 deaths. 

The country has lifted most lockdown restrictions, per the report, and now only recommends that people stay 1 meter apart from each other. According to the Associated Press, 20,000 fans packed into a stadium for a soccer match on Wednesday in Belgrade, too. 

Djokovic, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world, slammed the “extreme” safety measures that the U.S. Open is planning to implement this fall in New York earlier this week, too.

“The rules that they told us that we would have to respect to be there, to play at all, they are extreme,” he said, in part. “We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week.

“Also, we could bring one person to the club, which is really impossible. I mean, you need your coach, then a fitness trainer, then a physiotherapist.”

Though his charity tournament tour — which will next move on to Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina — looked extremely different than what the U.S. Open could look like, it’s easy to understand why. The United States is still battling the coronavirus, and has more than 2 million confirmed cases. 

Still, Djokovic wasn’t worried about the lack of safety measures in place on Friday. After all, he said, it wasn’t his decision.

“You can also criticize us and say this is maybe dangerous but it’s not up to me to make the calls about what is right or wrong for health,” Djokovic said, via the Associated Press. “We are doing what the Serbian government is telling us, and hopefully, we soon will get back on tour collectively.

“Of course, lives have been lost and that’s horrible to see, in the region and worldwide. But life goes on, and we as athletes are looking forward to competing.”

Thousands of fans showed up to the charity tournament on Friday and packed into stands to watch, showing little regard for coronavirus safety measures. (Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

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