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Australian Open: Novak Djokovic is not above COVID-19 rules

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Serbian Novak Djokovic, the world number one, fought against deportation from Australia on January 6, 2022, after the government revoked his visa for failing to meet entry requirements for the pandemic vaccine.
Image credit: AFP

What was Novak Djokovic thinking? Did he really believe he could play the Australian Open without being vaccinated? He almost got out of it. The Serbian tennis star traveled to Melbourne with a “medical exemption” from the state of Victoria, only to have the Australian Border Force revoke his visa.

With Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer skipping the Australian Open, Djokovic must have thought he could bend the COVID-19 rules to defend his title. Deprived of stars, organizers appeared keen to have the world’s number one tennis player at Melbourne Park on January 17. They said two medical boards considered Djokovic’s request.

Reports indicate that Djokovic may have relied on a previous COVID infection to seek the exemption. This is not a sufficient reason for an exemption in Australia. Djokovic had tested positive in June 2020 after playing exhibition matches he organized in Serbia and Croatia without complying with the COVID protocol.

Medical exemptions are for people who deserve it, for people who cannot get vaccines because of their medical condition. So far, neither Djokovic nor the organizers have disclosed the grounds for the exemption. Well, that’s understandable. It’s a matter of confidentiality.

Okay, we don’t know why Djokovic asked for an exemption, but we are fully aware of the Serbian position on vaccines. It is a known anti-vaccine that has refused to disclose its vaccination status. Here is his comments on the COVID vaccine in April 2020: “Personally, I am not pro-vaccines. I wouldn’t want someone to force me to get the vaccine so I can travel.

It is therefore clear that Djokovic was attempting to circumvent COVID-19 rules in Australia through a “medical exemption”. It’s infuriating at a time when Omicron cases have exploded around the world. Athletes, star players and celebrities are role models, and players like Djokovic set a bad example under the guise of freedom of choice.

Novak

A protester holds signs outside the Park Hotel, where Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic is believed to be living, in Melbourne on January 6, 2022.
Image credit: Reuters

The Serbian tennis star may have won 20 Grand Slam tournaments, but he’s just another person. He has to follow the rules like the rest of us. By opting for an exemption, he thumbs his nose at the vaccinated. This too in a country where thousands of citizens cannot return due to its strict COVID rules. Residents of Victoria have suffered the most, as interstate travel has been restricted over the past two years by some of the world’s toughest COVID measures.

Now the question is: why has the Australian government reacted so late? They could have acted as soon as Victoria announced the exemption. It would have saved Djokovic all the embarrassment. But they did not, which suggests that the backlash on social media caused the visa to be revoked. It just might be. Other reports point to a standoff between the federal and Victoria governments.

If Canberra had acted quickly, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s words – “rules are rules, and there are no special cases” – would have carried more weight. Since Victoria no longer supports the visa for Djokovic, Australia should have sent him back to Serbia.

The Australian Open is 11 days away and Djokovic is spending his time at the Park Hotel, a quarantine center in Melbourne, while his lawyer moves the court. Some say the issue could go all the way to the High Court, as diplomatic fury between Australia and Serbia rages in the background.

So who is at fault? Djokovic, Victoria or Australia? All are to blame. It’s an unnecessary distraction when the world is shaken by Omicron. We are living in a global pandemic. More common sense and more caution is the need of the moment.


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