Australian tennis took centre stage on social media on Tuesday as a bill was introduced that would demand infants under one-month-old receive polio vaccination to compete in the Australian Open.
The MP who co-sponsored the legislation, Scott Buchholz, told Guardian Australia that while it is a humane and sensible piece of legislation that will raise awareness of potential threats and challenges of Polio globally, others disagreed with the move.
“We’re looking at it from a humanitarian perspective but other parts of the world and sporting groups have taken an appropriate line and raised concerns that it may affect their ability to attract athletes to host events,” Buchholz said.
“This bill will make sure that all children across Australia are protected by at least the BCG vaccination.”
Polio is a viral disease that leaves people permanently paralyzed. It has no known cure, and there is no known transmission route other than the water.
After a recent epidemic, Australian authorities have been investigating which areas currently at risk of the disease.
“We have detected a case in a baby born in WA and another in NSW where they both have the varicella (chicken pox) virus,” said Michael Coutts-Trotter, commissioner for health and the minister for sport, in a statement earlier this month.
In November, the government announced steps to fight the spread of Polio after the country’s first outbreak in 20 years.
“Every day, more people and children are being infected with the most dangerous and contagious of the polio viruses. Experts estimate we need a minimum of five new infections a year to reduce this threat,” the minister for sport, Mick Gentleman, said in a statement.
At this year’s Australian Open, which is hosted by Melbourne, all athletes and personnel required to complete a national polio vaccine and must submit a completed TB immunization certificate to the Australian Open.
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The Tennis Australia chief executive, Craig Tiley, declined to comment on the bill, but did defend the tournament’s decision to require polio vaccine.
“It is important for us as tennis athletes to be immunised to play, and while we have always allowed people the choice to leave the immunisations, it is extremely important to us we have our players protected.”
“For anyone that would like to attend our championships without a licence, we would encourage them to attend the play-offs. There is no risk from attending the play-offs.”
Britain’s Andy Murray was the last male player to lose to an opponent of the virus, losing his second-round match against Alexander Peya in 2011. The last men’s Australian Open, also played in Melbourne, was won by Novak Djokovic.
After appearing on Australia’s Breakfast with Hamish and Andy earlier this year, Mags Harding, the long-serving former editor of the Herald Sun and former chair of the Australian Federation of Rotary Clubs, called the idea “political correctness gone mad”.
“I think we have to try and do things to reduce the risk and I think this is absurd,” Harding said.
“We can vaccinate against a lot of things … If we reduce the virus in the population then the likelihood of spreading the virus to other countries goes down.”
Murray, then 23, lost in the first round to Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka. Wawrinka has since won four grand slam titles, reaching the finals of all but one grand slam, the US Open.
Harding and golfer, Bernhard Langer, have urged opponents of the polio vaccine to get vaccinated.