Novak Djokovic, the best tennis player in the world, is spending this weekend detained in a Melbourne hotel requisitioned for refugees, with guards stationed outside his door. On Monday he’ll be taken to a court hearing to assert his right to enter Australia unvaccinated- a hearing which could end in an undignified deportation, followed by a three year ban.
Outside the Park Hotel, angry Serbs parade with placards claiming their countryman is being victimised, anti-vaxxers spout their usual lies, and vaccinated locals threaten uproar if Djokovic manages to sweet talk his way into their country.
The Serbian President has described the situation as a ‘witch hunt’.
It’s nothing of the sort.
I don’t know if Djokovic has access to his usual physiotherapist, his personal chef or the use a local practice court, but this farce is entirely the result of his own making.
Put simply, the Serb believes that he’s entitled to play in the Australian Open tennis tournament (which starts on the 17th) under a different set of rules to everyone else, because he convinced two sets of doctors to grant him a ‘medical exemption’.
If you ever thought there was a level playing field in sport, the events of the last 24 hours in Melbourne demonstrate that’s a hollow joke, writes JANET STREET-PORTER. There’s one rule for Novak Djokovic (pictured) – and another set of rules for mere mortals
On what grounds remain a mystery, but it is thought that Djokovic cited catching Covid six months ago as proof of immunity. But that has never been acceptable for quarantine-free entry to Australia since Covid arrived in 2019. His entry visa has been declared invalid without proof of vaccination.
Novak’s giant ego and lack of social skills are well-documented but haven’t stopped him clawing his way to the top. Along the way, he seems to have started to believe he could rewrite the rules of international competition during a global pandemic. His distrust of vaccines (his wife has republished factually incorrect messages on social media linking Covid 19 to 5G technology) and his reluctance to admit whether he has been vaccinated or not, offer a bad example to young sports stars.
It’s important- because one in four UK League footballer players are still refusing to be vaccinated and less of our Premier league players are vaccinated than any of the leading European teams. When hundreds of thousands of people are dying and suffering long-term effects from a highly contagious virus, it is important that sports and entertainment stars don’t disseminate lies and false truths.
The Australian Open is the first Grand Slam tournament to play under strict Covid -containment rules since lockdown. Last November, Djokovic was told that all competitors, staff and fans would have to be double vaccinated, and the Australian Minister of Health wrote to Tennis Australia confirming that anyone who had contracted Covid in the past still needed to be jabbed.
Foreign players must also take a PCR test on arrival and remain in isolation until they get a negative result. The rules are strict- some top double jabbed players have been barred because they’ve received vaccines not recognised in Australia.
As I write, Djokovic is sitting in a room at Melbourne airport, detained by Border Agents as the farce surrounding his permission to compete in the Australian Open (which starts on January 17th) unfolds
The country is fighting record infections (almost 300,000 over the Christmas period), and a ham-fisted Prime Minister who has just made the dumb decision to continue charging $AU10 dollars for home rapid antigen tests (which the UK has given out free since last April) – claiming ‘we can’t go around and make everything free.’ So, health doesn’t matter if you’re poor?
PM Scott Morrison has switched positions on mask-wearing, social distancing and border controls so many times, no wonder long suffering Aussies are fed up to the back teeth.
Over 40,000 Australian citizens couldn’t return home from March 2020 as the Prime Minister kept the borders firmly closed until last November.
Many watched loved ones die from overseas, forced to attend funerals via Zoom. Families were split in two, with workers and students stranded overseas, running out of cash.
In November entry requirements were slightly relaxed so that citizens could return, and a limited list of foreign professionals were also allowed entry, but only if they were double vaxxed and tested negative prior to travel.
Although, funnily enough, a bunch of foreign celebs and film stars had managed to gain entry to Australia many months earlier- including Rita Ora, Matt Damon, Idris Elba, Zac Efron, Ed Sheeran, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
Some were filming or appearing on TV – vital life-saving work, as I’m sure you’ll agree, but no consolation to those lesser citizens stranded miles from home.
The reigning world tennis champion, who has won 20 Grand Slams, and the last three Australian Opens- is not just ‘special’, a sporting god, he also has a remarkable ability to move around the world in a pandemic.
There’s one rule for Novak Djokovic – and another set for mere mortals.
As tennis legend Rod Laver puts it, Djokovic is obviously super-fit – so on what grounds did he manage to secure a medical exemption?
For fans (like me) Djokovic’s stubborn attitude is distressing.
Sure, he’s moody, temperamental, and sulky. But those are his irritating personality traits, not his tennis skills. On form, Djokovic is the most magical being you will ever see on a tennis court, and was the favourite to take the Aussie title.
I’ve played tennis since the age of 12 and had lessons for years, but I’ll never have one millionth of his natural talent. Even though Djokovic is an irritating bastard at times, I honour his hard work and single-minded brilliance.
But one aspect of his tortured personality is deeply troubling- his continuing refusal to come clean on Covid and vaccinations.
Scott Morrison has told the press that Djokovic should not get special treatment and will be put on the first plane home if he does not have all his paperwork in order. We’ll see. Pictured: The tennis star after winning the Open in 2021
In June 2020 (during the first wave of Covid), Djokovic hosted a tennis tournament in the Balkans, with exhibition matches in Serbia and Croatia.
There was a complete lack of social distancing, and no requirement for competitors to take tests. After one player- Dimitrov, tested positive, Djokovic flew home to Monaco without being tested- although he later apologised.
His wife, coach, and three top players all subsequently tested positive following what had turned out to be a super-spreader event.
Djokovic has spoken out against vaccinations and what he calls ‘extreme precautions’ against Covid, saying these are private matters for individuals – as a result, critics have dubbed him Novaxx Djocovid.
During the pandemic, Djokovic has lived in luxury in Monte Carlo, playing in tournaments when permitted, and remaining tight-lipped about whether he has ever been vaccinated.
The citizens of Melbourne, on the other hand, have spent more days in lockdown than any other city in the world- prevented from shopping, working, walking in the park, travelling to other Australian states, and even playing tennis for fun.
Not surprisingly, the decision to grant a millionaire superstar an exemption went down like the proverbial cup of cold sick Down Under.
Rafael Nadal, who has also won 20 Grand Slams, arrived in the country quietly the other day. He’s issued a statement distancing himself from the reigning Champion, saying ‘he’s free to take his position, but has to live with the consequences…he knew the conditions (for entry) since a lot of months ago’.
The event will survive and flourish without the World Number 1, even if sponsors make the usual threats.
Organisers are always banging on about how important it is to attract young people from all ethnic backgrounds to the game – which is why they must stand up to Djokovic.
Scott Morrison announced that Djokovic should not get special treatment and will be put on the first plane home if he does not have all his paperwork in order. We’ll see if the Prime Minister holds his nerve next week.
The anti-vaxxers in Australia are shouty people doing their best to keep the country shut down. Despite their best efforts 90% of over-16’s have had two jabs, but there’s a hard-core of older people who are still resistant and Djokivic is their poster boy.
Australia needs to show some guts and direct this diva to the door .