Novak Djokovic’s treatment in the days since he arrived in Australia has seemed harsh to those who think money and fame should buy you a free pass for anything. To many of the rest of us, it has felt like karma.
I respect Djokovic’s right not to be vaccinated but I don’t respect him. Not any more. When I look at Djokovic, I don’t see the best men’s tennis player in the world. I see a dangerous fool.
I realise this will sound overly emotional to some people, and I apologise for that, but it is hard to be measured about something when your dad’s death certificate has Covid-19 typed in the box that tells you what killed him. So even though my father was coming to the end of his life before the pandemic hit, I suppose I have a heightened interest in this debate around Djokovic. Millions of other people do, too.
Novak Djokovic should either have got jabbed or he should have stayed away from Australia
It is the right of people like Djokovic not to get vaccinated. It is the right of others to feel seething anger at the selfishness of that. I know too many vulnerable people who still stand to suffer from the actions of people like Djokovic. I know too many bereaved sons and daughters dotted among hundreds of thousands of grieving families in this country who have lost loved ones, some of them because of the actions of people like him, who have an extremely limited grasp of the concept of a wider responsibility to a community.
This is a man, a phenomenal tennis player admired and adored by millions of fans across the world, who has form in this area. And we’re not talking about the kind of form that might win him the Australian Open this month. It is the kind of form that makes him a repeat offender, a man who organised a super-spreader tennis event, the Adria tour, in June 2020.
Djokovic does not actively promote anti-vax views but this is a player who tested positive for Covid a second time last month and still turned up for a photo-shoot the next day and posed for pictures without a mask. This is a man who blamed his agent for concealing the number of countries he had visited in the build-up to his arrival in Melbourne last week. This is a man who thinks rules are for the little people.
The world No 1 has been practicing, but his participation in Melbourne is still in doubt
It is very unlikely he is in danger himself, of course. He knows that. He is supremely fit and he is young. He’s all right, Jack. But what about the people he came into contact with during the time he had Covid-19 last month?
Or the time before that, in 2020? They had families, too. Maybe he came into contact with people who had relatives who might have got seriously ill with the virus.
The irony, of course, is that having had Covid so recently — if his timeline is to be believed — Djokovic poses very little direct health threat to anyone in Melbourne for the immediate future. In other circumstances, if he were not somebody who had become a poster-boy for vaccine sceptics everywhere, maybe his passage to Australia would have been smoother.
Serbian star Djokovic is determined to not give up is Australian Open chances without a fight
It felt bitterly amusing to hear Nicholas Wood, Djokovic’s counsel, arguing on Friday evening that the basis for the decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa a second time was irrational. Quite what vestiges of rationality remain in Djokovic’s attitude towards vaccination are hard to ascertain. I don’t see any rational reasons for it at all. Not a single one.
Wood took issue with the judgment of the Australian immigration minister, Alex Hawke, that Djokovic’s participation in the Australian Open, where he was installed in the draw as top seed, would ‘excite anti-vaccination sentiment’ in Australia.
Facts had been superseded by feelings, one commentator said. Maybe Hawke’s decision was pragmatic. Things politicians do usually are. And maybe Hawke’s powers are draconian and open to abuse. That’s a different argument. On this occasion, he got it right.
The Serb had his visa revoked again on Friday and will spend the weekend in detention centre
The stance taken by Djokovic, and people like him, damages sport and society. I saw a clip from the wildly popular Joe Rogan Experience the other day where the host, who has been accused of ‘provoking distrust in science and medicine’, was left speechless when a guest exposed the error in his belief that there was an increased risk of the heart condition, myocarditis, among 12 to 17-year-olds who had received the vaccine.
The guest pointed out that there was an increased risk of that age group getting myocarditis from contracting coronavirus rather than getting the vaccine.
The risk, a study in the New Scientist proved, was actually eight times greater and yet the myth of increasing heart problems among young vaccinated athletes is a myth that persists in English society, too, and is widely quoted among footballers as a reason not to be vaccinated.
Djokovic could be detained, deported or defending his Australian Open title next week
By seeking an exemption to play in the Australian Open, the tournament that promised to establish him as the greatest men’s player of all time, Djokovic was also seeking, unwittingly or otherwise, to become a pin-up for anti-vaxxers everywhere. In a country whose population has been asked to make more sacrifices than most during the pandemic, that would be hard to stomach.
It is said that 97 of the world’s top 100 male tennis players have been fully vaccinated. They took the decision to respect a local population that has been through hell and that has had to make sacrifice after sacrifice. They decided to do what was right for the tournament and their fellow players.
Djokovic should have had some respect, too. He should have had a bit of class. He should either have got the jab or he should have stayed away. Instead, cranks, conspiracy theorists and Nigel Farage have flocked to him and sought to lionise and legitimise him. Djokovic is one of the all-time great tennis players and you can have him as your sporting hero if you want. Just count me out.
Djokovic has won the tournament nine times, but may not get to defend his title this year