MARTIN SAMUEL: Novak Djokovic is no freedom fighter, he’s a menace


Justice and truth has prevailed, declared Novak Djokovic’s brother Djordje. Although not too much truth, it transpired. There turned out to be significant limitations on the truth being told at a triumphant press conference in Belgrade.

The truth around Djokovic’s public appearances, sans mask, the day after testing positive for Covid on December 16, for instance. We never got to the bottom of that.

The preferred form of discourse from the top table was lengthy monologue, and the only questions permitted concerned the wonderfulness of Serbia’s favourite son and his chances of crushing his totalitarian tormentors on the tennis court, having won in the court of law.

When questions turned to Djokovic’s movement and activity between December 16 and 17, however, it turned out truth was a rather overrated commodity.

One minute Djordje was revealing the family credo as ‘be truthful all the way’, the next it was time to adjourn when members of the free press — and Novak was standing, according to his father, for ‘freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of speech’ — began to question why a person with a positive Covid test would continue public engagements, unmasked.

A question about what Djokovic might regret raised the first hackle. Djordje wanted to know where this journalist might be from, to have departed so dramatically from the gloating party line. The same voice sought clarification over whether Djokovic had tested positive on December 16.

Novak Djokovic’s family held a bizarre press conference on Monday live from Belgrade, Serbia

According to the Djokovic family, truth and justice has prevailed in his fight with Australia

According to the Djokovic family, truth and justice has prevailed in his fight with Australia

Djordje was now seeing one coming. He confirmed the date but wanted to know if there was a second part to the question. Yes, it transpired. Was Novak at an event on December 17? Well, family Djokovic had certainly delivered enough truth bombs for one day. Now it was time to call the meeting to an end, link arms and sing the Serbian national anthem.

Turned out there was no time to discover the truth of whether Djokovic went knowingly out and about, with Covid, meeting and greeting and eschewing a protective face mask.

For, however badly Australian government officials and its border control have fared in this saga, Djokovic is no hero. If he does not wish to be vaccinated, that is his choice. If he does not wish to be vaccinated and contracts Covid, that’s still in the realms of the personal.

But if he does not wish to be vaccinated, contracts Covid, then leaves home knowingly with a highly contagious disease that has already killed 5.49million people worldwide, and does not have the basic humanity to wear the small piece of cloth on his face that might protect others, a line has been crossed. He stops being a freedom fighter and becomes a menace.

Djokovic was pictured with young tennis players the day after he tested positive. And no, children, even teenagers, aren’t greatly at risk from Covid. But they do often live in inter-generational households, or attend inter-generational gatherings, particularly close to Christmas.

So when Dijana, his mother, emoted greatly over the living conditions in her son’s halfway house hotel, equating his treatment to torture and harassment, finishing with a plaintive, ‘Every mother in the world will understand me’, she shouldn’t take such empathy for granted. Not every mother’s son chose to hang around with other mothers’ sons, and daughters, while contagious with Covid, unmasked.

There are 23 kids in that photograph with Novak. Gruesome self-publicists like Nigel Farage and Laurence Fox may be on his side, but a lot of mothers, not to mention grandmothers and the odd maiden aunt may need to be canvassed before the verdict is in.

On Monday, the Serb successfully challenged the Australian Government’s decision to cancel his visa and will play in the Australian Open (pictured after winning the 2021 tournament)

On Monday, the Serb successfully challenged the Australian Government’s decision to cancel his visa and will play in the Australian Open (pictured after winning the 2021 tournament) 

This probably won’t be happening in Serbia any time soon, mind. Djokovic is a hero there and it comes to something when the greatest tennis player in the world can’t just go out in the street and give Covid to whoever he damn well pleases, pretty much as he may have done in 2020 at the Adria Tour super-spreader event.

If Djokovic supporters imagine he will not get asked about his movements after his positive PCR test if allowed to compete in Australia, however, they might be disappointed. He cannot be on a quest for truth and then come over coy on the specifics.

If he knew he tested positive on December 16, he can’t have forgotten or been testing negative a day later. And even if he was, self-isolation for a positive test in Serbia is 14 days. If the 16th was his first positive, he should have quarantined until December 30.

This is where the nuanced, questioning Djokovic we have heard so much of lately, meets a Covid denier nut. We can accept that a superlative athlete might place faith in natural, holistic, alternative treatment, rather than conventional medicine, if he believes it has served him well. Harder to take, however, is that he would have such contempt for the feelings, views and health of others that he would potentially place them in harm’s way.

Yet questions linger over the specifics of what really happened after his positive test on Dec 16

Yet questions linger over the specifics of what really happened after his positive test on Dec 16

Gruesome self-publicists like Nigel Farage may be on his side but it seems a large number of onlookers are unconvinced 

These are not questions that are easily brushed aside with a blast of the Serbian national anthem. Djokovic is as divisive outside Serbia as he is unifying within it.

As for Australia, he is now their worst nightmare. Djokovic is the standard-bearer for anti-vaccination, a call to arms for those who oppose the government and its perceived oppression throughout the pandemic — and his every success in Melbourne will be seen as a victory for those causes.

The police have already hit one group of fans with pepper spray, and more will undoubtedly gather once Djokovic begins the tournament, particularly if responding to a negative local reaction.

There is still a chance that he could again be expelled from Australia, but would immigration minister Alex Hawke take that chance, and risk another public humiliation for authority? Judge Anthony Kelly spoke for many who have experienced unswerving, unapproachable, faceless border authority when he asked what more the man could have done to satisfy the many protocols.

The World No 1 won the first round but the truth will out in this bitter battle Down Under

The World No 1 won the first round but the truth will out in this bitter battle Down Under

There have been any number of administrative mis-steps that have led us to here, and little about this process appears considered, consistent or smart.

If the Australian authorities had wished to promote Djokovic and his beliefs, to make him a cause célèbre, to unveil him as a hugely influential, unhelpful figure in the nation’s daily life, they could not have positioned him better.

He is centre stage now. Unmasked, unvaccinated and under the skin of the government that oversaw one of the pandemic’s strictest, most controversial lockdowns. It is everything Australia wanted to avoid and should have prevented.

But, while Djokovic battled through the early rounds, sterner tests lie ahead. Truth hasn’t had its day yet; don’t forget that.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk