In a Facebook chat with other Serbian sportspersons, Tennis star and current world’s number one male player Novak Djokovic expressed his reservations about mandatory intake of Covid-19 vaccine.
Djokovic said, “Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel.”
These comments triggered a debate over Djokovic’s perceived anti-vaxxer views in the middle of a pandemic that doesn’t have a cure. And his religious beliefs.
Actually with him it has to do with his wife who is trying to be relevant for years, unsuccessfully. As for the wives that destroy successful husbands, one could write a book on that in the Balkans… So he should stick to playing tennis. #Djokovic https://t.co/zyTVacJjUX
— Damir Fazlić (@FazlicDamir) April 20, 2020
But people fail to understand how sacrosanct the body is for an athlete. Players earn their livelihood and their careers depend on how they maintain their bodies. An injury can cost a career. And inadvertent consumption of a banned substance through a medicine or vaccine can also similarly bring the same fate as intended doping does — disgrace and years of ban that keeps the player away from the sports circuit. Moreover, an allergy to any medicine could be counterproductive and still keep the player out of the game.
In a world where endorsements are based on image and performance, an athlete is well within his/her right to be sceptical of what they put into their body, pandemic or no pandemic.
Building a body
It’s not as though Djokovic, Roger Federer, Virat Kohli or Usain Bolt woke up as champions of their sports. It requires years of training, understanding your body and providing it with the adequate fuel to get stronger and quicker.
In 2010, Djokovic learnt that he was sensitive to gluten, which was also one of the reasons for his mid-match collapses and why he could not perform well. Changes in his diet, and removing gluten from it resulted in drastic changes in his career. The next year (2011) he recorded a 41-0 consecutive match win streak, had a record 70 wins to 6 losses, won three Grand Slams and racked up 10 ATP titles. Pete Sampras called it “one of the greatest achievements in the history of sports.”
This only goes to show what difference a person’s diet can make to their performance and career. As an athlete, their body is their wealth. Which is why you have a team of physical trainers, nutritionists, physiotherapists and even mental therapists who work on and build a player.
Maria Sharapova was banned for two years, after she failed a drug test for a supplement she was taking for close to 10 years because she had a magnesium deficiency. The substance was not earlier banned but was later added to the list of prohibited substances. Similarly, Richard Gasquet faced a two-year ban, which was overturned after he tested positive for cocaine as he had kissed someone who had consumed the drug.
An athlete’s career isn’t just all performance. One wrong move can end a career. Therefore, someone like Djokovic, who is at the peak of his career, has complete right to be sceptical of vaccines — especially if he has to take something as a precautionary measure.
The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 2.6 million people across the world and killed more than 1.8 lakh people. With no cure to the disease, a vaccine is the need of the hour to resume normalcy, which includes sporting events. Michael Nobbs, former Indian hockey team coach, said that a vaccine is the real answer and cricketer Suresh Raina agreed with him, saying players’ safety is not guaranteed unless there is a vaccine.
So #Djokovic is a no vaxx? Good riddance then
— Kendrene (@Kendrene17) April 20, 2020
Many have called Djokovic an anti-vaxxer (a person opposed to vaccination) and termed his statement “irresponsible” in the middle of a global pandemic. But Djokovic was speaking about himself. He did not go on television and said vaccines are bad (like a certain television anchor demonising people). Sure, he is in a position to influence many. But he wouldn’t be in that position had he not built and trained his body in the way he deemed fit.
With trials on course, a vaccine for Covid-19 will be ready by mid-2021, according to experts. Until it’s available and widely proved to be successful with clear evidence of no side-effects, an athlete, or any common person for that matter, is justified to air his doubts on getting vaccinated.
Views are personal.