Home Opinion and Features Is it game, set, match for anti-vaxxer Novak Djokovic?

Is it game, set, match for anti-vaxxer Novak Djokovic?

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic reacts as he leaves the court after losing his semi-final match of the ATP Finals against Germany’s Alexander Zverev at the Pala Alpitour venue in Turin on November 20, 2021. Picture: Marco BERTORELLO/AFP

Tennis Australia wants him to play, but the greater Australia has turned on one of their favourite sporting visitors because of his sense of entitlement, writes Mark Keohane

NOVAK Djokovic will know on Monday whether he has been granted permission to play in the Australian Open, which starts on January 19.

For now, he remains “locked up” in a refugee detention hotel after the Federal Court ruled that his appeal to be let into Australia ahead of the Australian Open would be adjourned until Monday.

The Department of Home Affairs made the decision to deny Djokovic entry to Australia and to deport him, despite Djokovic arguing he had a vaccine exemption to enter the country, granted through Tennis Australia on medical grounds.

It makes for dramatic reading, but don’t be in the least surprised if Djokovic, the winner of 20 Grand Slam men’s single titles and a record nine Australian Open men’s single titles, wins his appeal on Monday and defends his title.

Tennis Australia wants him to play, but the greater Australia has turned on one of their favourite sporting visitors because of his sense of entitlement.

For those unaware of what unfolded, Djokovic, 36 hours before arriving in Australia, had boasted on social media that he was on his way to Australia because he had a “vaccine exception” to be in Australia.

Djokovic is among the highestprofile anti-vax personalities in sport.

The power of social media then took charge and Djokovic clearly underestimated the outrage of Australians who have lived the past two years to the letter of the law when it comes to Covid lockdowns, regulations and stipulations.

Many expressed their disgust at the Australian tennis authorities and the government that they would allow an anti-vax sports personality into the country because of his ability to hit a ball over a net, but thousands of citizens, over the past 18 months, had been denied the opportunity to cross state lines to comfort dying relatives.

The mass outpouring had an immediate effect. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that if Djokovic could not substantiate the medical grounds on which he was granted an exemption in not having to quarantine, he would not be allowed into the country.

Djokovic, cocksure and full of bravado on his departure for Australia, was stunned at what awaited him at customs.

I laughed out loud at the Daily Mail’s tennis authority Mike Dickson’s description of Djokovic’s social media post, which he described as ill-judged and bound to invite the ire of a population that has been subjected to more lockdowns than anywhere in the world.

“He possesses not just an extraordinary athletic ability, but a giant pair of tin ears,” wrote Dickson.

Yet, despite the tin ears and the self-importance, Djokovic will claim his biggest victory on Monday, even before a ball is hit.

For all the officialese from the Australian prime minister, that if Djokovic had failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia his visa would be immediately cancelled and he would be on the first flight back to Serbia, it hasn’t happened.

Instead, he is in a “refugee” hotel and one of the considerations was whether he had a tennis court close by for training purposes!

One rule for the masses and one rule for the world’s best tennis player. Morrison has been a contradiction but the acting Victoria Sports Minister Jaala Pulford took to social media that the State had rejected the Federal Government’s question and asked if the State would support the player’s visa application.

“We will not…” wrote Pulford. For all the showboating from Pulford and the like, privilege and status hold sway, added Dickson. I agree with him.

There are few more privileged in tennis and wealthier than the world’s No 1 men’s player.

*Mark Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and a regular contributor to Independent Media Sport

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