It’s been a real mess this one and it’s hard to believe it’s over. But the news is out: Novak Djokovic is free to play the Australian Open.
These are strange words to type: Novak Djokovic is free. But I had a feeling it would happen. The matter had snowballed into a breaking news item worldwide since Djokovic started his journey to Australia. It was clear to everyone that he did not believe in the vaccines and had no intention of taking them. Terms and hashtags like “Novax” and “Djocovid” made the rounds on social media. His future of playing the Australian Open 2022 looked unlikely. But you know Novak by now, he loves a good fight and tends to believe he’s right.
In the end, Novak won and the Australian government (I guess) lost. This is what it says on tennis.com
Novak Djokovic has won his appeal to overturn the cancellation of his visa after both sides came to an agreement.
Judge Anthony Kelly, who “quashed” the canceled visa, ordered that the world No. 1 be released from immigration detention within 30 minutes and his passport/personal items be returned ASAP. The government is also responsible for paying for his costs.
“The decision to proceed with the interview and cancel that visa under section 116 of the Migration Act 1958 was unreasonable.”
It sounds like madness to me. How did this even happen if all the parties were in communication before he landed? If Australia wanted to play hardball, they should have stated: “You’re either vaccinated or not, no exemptions.” Offering this kind of exemption would lead to this situation. Some players who can’t afford lawyers get sent home. Some players get to play.
Vaccine politics have become a toxic thing around the world. People break up families and friendships due to beliefs in these new vaccines/vaccine mandates or not. Feelings run wild and reason has gone. I think we should be better than this as a society. And our governments need to step up their leadership, communication, and sense of direction in this crisis. Let’s get out of this mess once and for all in 2022.
So what now?
Djokovic will play the Australian Open. Like many times before, he will be a polarizing figure. Quite a few Aussies will be vocal about him going there without bothering with the vaccine, but he has a strong fanbase that will back him no matter what. Could he have handled this better? Well, he could have avoided all of this and just gotten vaccinated. That’s the route most people have taken in this crisis. Rafa spoke about that as well in an interesting commentary. But if he doesn’t believe in that (and his beliefs run deep and he is ready to fight for them, like it or not), he is not forced to. Like I wrote above, if the Australian government believes that being vaccinated against Covid is the ONLY way you should be allowed into their country, they should not have allowed for medical exemptions. Simple as that, really.
Djokovic’s Instagram post, where he cheerfully announced that he was going to Australia with an exemption, was perhaps the thing that started it all. People saw that post, thought it to be arrogant and local politicians saw it as a way to ride public opinion. Would it have been better from Novak’s side not to post anything until he was clear? Probably. But if he had gotten assurances from the Australian government/Tennis Australia, he probably thought the light was green. What you can argue is that he should have realized how divided public opinion is about this topic and how Australians might react to his anti-vax stance. But maybe he doesn’t care. Perhaps he enjoys the fight. We all know he plays better due to it.
Will Djokovic win?
He is the clear favorite based on how good he is under circumstances where he needs to fight against the opponent and more than half of the crowd. Nine Australian Open titles tell the story. Will he be distressed about this “preparation”? Maybe. But he thrives under pressure. He seems to struggle the most when the majority wants him to win, which seemed to happen at the Olympics and the US Open. The moment got to him. This time around, I don’t think it will.
Was this debacle good for tennis? No. It makes the sport and its governing bodies look a bit like a circus. The pandemic has not been easy on tennis and tennis officials and players have not always dealt with it in the best way. But how many people have dealt with this once-in-a-lifetime situation in a good way and how can we expect it?
Djokovic is not the smoothest and most natural ambassador for tennis, but he is the best player of all time at dealing with adversity on the court. And no matter where you are in the vaccine camp, you got to give it to him for sticking to his beliefs, no matter what.
I hope we can avoid as much Covid talk as possible for now and focus on the tournament. I think we’re all exhausted talking about the pandemic and its trials and tribulations that affect all of us daily. Let’s play some tennis.
PS. Is it over? DS.
There are news on Twitter that Djokovic has been arrested. Not sure what is true or not anymore, but it seems like the mess continues. I guess you have to follow the story (or tune out and focus on other more productive things). From what I understand, the government can still deny him the visa, but I would assume it’s unlikely this late in the game.
Another thing that has been reported is that Novak tested positive for Covid on Dec 17th, but he was still seen doing events (one with kids apparently) while Covid positive. Then he tested negative again on the 22nd of Dec. This is according to tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg on Twitter.