A COURT hearing against the Australian government on Monday is likely to decide Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open fate. The situation the Serbian tennis star finds himself in — isolated in a hotel working on his challenge against deportation — is largely of his own doing. Defending champion Djokovic — chasing a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open — has refused to disclose his Covid-19 vaccination status. He’s been a vaccine sceptic, emerging as a hero for anti-vaxxers, and arrived for the first Grand Slam of the year on a medical exemption from Australia’s strict vaccination requirements. However, Djokovic was detained by the Australian Border Force and his visa was subsequently revoked when he arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday. Outrage had already begun when it first emerged Djokovic had received the exemption as he had contracted Covid-19 in the past six months and was on the way to Australia. That ended months of speculation about whether the 34-year-old, tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slam titles, would defend his title at the Australian Open which begins on Jan 17. But now his plans have hit a snag.
There has been criticism, and rightly so, that his anti-vaccination stance contradicts his position as a global sports icon especially when the pandemic has caused so much devastation worldwide. Djokovic should set an example for others to follow but his views on vaccination are providing anti-vaxxers with the ammunition they need. Even with the pandemic raging, Djokovic held an exhibition tennis tournament in the Balkans where no one wore masks and there was no social distancing. After players — including himself — tested positive, he apologised and admitted he was wrong. But he still refuses to get inoculated. Other prominent players, including German football star Joshua Kimmich, held similar views until they eventually opted for vaccination. With the Omicron variant wreaking havoc, Djokovic too will have to fall in line. Otherwise, his vaccination status would likely be a hurdle in the future as he chases tennis history.
Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2022