Novak Djokovic is an elite athlete who has every right to take care of his body. He also has the right to conclude that vaccination is not right for him. But what he does not realise is a basic fact — Covid-19 spreads from one human to another. Any person that chooses not to get vaccinated is being irresponsible in the sense that he or she is encouraging the spread of the virus, allowing it to sustain rather than curtail. Two years into the pandemic, we still don’t know a lot about it. What we do know is that vaccines are a saviour and a vaccinated person is safer than a non-vaccinated one.
Djokovic is an extraordinary human. He may raise his immunity and metabolism to such high levels that even Covid cannot impact him for long. It is to be applauded that he feels capable of defeating the virus without getting vaccinated. But he did catch Covid, not once but twice. Once during the Adria tour in June 2020 and again last month. Covid-19 is a social disease and not an individual one. Vaccines help in curtailing the spread of the virus and the eventual solution is a fully vaccinated world with boosters for the variants. Djokovic’s attitude towards vaccines is wrong.
This brings us to the current situation in Australia vis a vis his participation in the first Grand Slam of the year.
Blame, but not just Djokovic
The state of Victoria and the city of Melbourne has seen some of the strictest lockdowns since the pandemic began. Australians have made huge sacrifices in trying to curtail the virus. When Djokovic was given a medical exemption, a lot of people in Australia flared up and began to think there were two sets of rules, one for a global tennis superstar and another for common people. So, rather than merely targeting the global icon, we should be asking questions from the Australian government, Tennis Australia and Border Entry Department of Australia.
The first big mistake was made by the visa office of the Australian government. Australia has the right policy of allowing only fully vaccinated people into the country and yet they granted visa to a person whose vaccination status they did not know. The government was wrong to issue the visa. It was simple, Djokovic was not vaccinated and no visa should have been granted to him. This would have been fair and square and no eyebrows would have been raised. Once the visa was granted, it opened Pandora’s box. Karen Andrews, the Federal Minister for Home Affairs quickly passed the buck to the border entry force.
The mismanagement goes deeper
Even after granting the visa, the Australian authorities had the chance to use the second layer of protection which was to deny Djkovic entry into the aircraft at the point of original departure. Because they didn’t do that, eventually it all ended up before the third layer of protection — the border entry on Australian soil. To deny him entry at the airport after landing in Australia was shocking and flimsy from a legal point of view. This is no way to treat a global icon who has given so much joy to people all around the world. To make it worse, the medical exemption given to Djokovic was supposedly in consultation with Tennis Australia.
The mismanagement goes deeper because the rules of Tennis Australia and the Government of Australia are not on the same page. As per Tennis Australia rules, those infected with the virus in the last six months need not be vaccinated. But the government rule says that even if someone got the infection in the six-month period, they still need a TGA vaccine to be considered fully vaccinated.
If this was not bizarre enough, the case of Czech player Renata Voracova is ridiculous. In the same visa situation as Djokovic, Voracova was allowed to enter by the Border Force and even managed to play a WTA event before being detained and put in the same detention centre as Novak, which she later called nothing less than a prison.
Surely, Djokovic should not have gone to a hotel meant for immigration detainees. This is no way to treat an icon.
As we await trial, it’s not Djokovic who has to do the answering. Over to the Commonwealth Government.
Kush Singh @singhkb is founder, The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)