Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Djokovic dispute: In the end, only losers remain

Posted on 13 January 2022 by Kristina Thiedeitz

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The first Grand Slam tournament of this year starts in Melbourne on Monday, and it is still not clear whether defending champion Novak Djokovic will play. While he is on the roster as the top seed and preparing to play compatriot Kecmanovic, his visa may yet be declared invalid. The incidents do not shed good light on the Australians, who have left the Serb hanging in the air. But Djokovic is similarly becoming more and more unreliable due to the latest developments which have arisen.

Criticism after special permission

The conflict began with a decision that no one had expected. Djokovic, who had not been vaccinated, received a medical exemption to compete at the Australian Open.

This decision surprised not only the tennis world but wider society as well and was hotly debated. Especially after comments made by Daniel Andrews, the Premier of the State of Victoria, last year: “I don’t think an unvaccinated player will get a visa to this country. The virus doesn’t care where you are in the world rankings or how many Grand Slams you have won.”

Although two independent experts decided on the exemption, many suspected the Serb received a special permit because of his status as the world number one tennis player. The fact that the reasons for the decision, which led to the special exemption, were not made clear, the public’s doubts about the decision and Djokovic grew.

Other tennis players, such as Britain’s Jamie Murray, also did not understand the decision and voiced criticism: “I think if I hadn’t been vaccinated, I wouldn’t have got an exemption.”

Australia suffers from the pandemic

But it was the Australian people who were hit hardest by this decision. Strict Covid-19 measures have long been applied in Australia in particular. In some cases, the local population was forbidden to travel in their own country due to different rules across states. Many were unable see their family members or say goodbye to them when they passed away from the virus. On November 1st, the borders were reopened after 19 months, but strict rules still applied to unvaccinated people.

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The pandemic has hit the country hard, and so there is an understandable upset reaction from Djokovic’s special permit. The Australian daily The Herald Sun wrote: “His participation is an insult to every Australian who has been through hell because of Covid”. The West Australian newspaper said: “The Djoker has turned into the Joker, shamelessly assigning himself the role of the villain before launching his attempt to rule the tennis world.”

The tennis player with two faces 

Djokovic is one of the best tennis players of all time. His numerous titles prove him correct, but time and again, he attracts negative attention because of his beliefs. In Serbia, he is celebrated as a hero and loved by everyone, but he is sometimes viewed critically in the rest of the world.

The latest developments do not cast him in a good light either. Despite a positive PCR test, he conducted an interview with French journalists, which he later admitted was misconduct. He also went to a tennis academy event in Belgrade with Covid. There were also inconsistencies when the positive test was carried out. The incorrectly placed cross on his entry form is also a bad look for him and his agent.

But Djokovic is now in Australia with a visa and special medical clearance that allows them him to play for his 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. But the Australian authorities are leaving him up in the air. The Immigration Minister can still use his right to invalidate the Serb’s visa.

Mistakes on both sides 

Overall, the Australian authorities have done themselves no favours in this dispute. Incensed by the decision and the displeasure of their people, they treated Djokovic like a criminal and did not give him enough time to clarify the facts. That’s why the court decided to let the Serb stay for now.

It is a dispute that has the tennis world on tenterhooks even before the first major event this year. Neither side has covered itself with glory in this conflict. The world number one has become a hero to all opponents of vaccination, sending a frightening signal. Knowing that he opposes vaccination, the organisers should have rejected his application as well. But they approved him with the experts. The Serb is now in Australia and should also play. This back and forth, delaying a decision makes it ridiculous.

At the Australian Open, vaccinated players and athletes can compete with special medical clearance. Djokovic meets one of those two criteria. The officials have made a decision and should stick to it. They also have to live with possible consequences.

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As tennis fans and the nine-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic, it remains exciting. If the Djoker is allowed to play, it will be interesting to see how the Australian public reacts. However, what is certain is that the 34-year-old’s image has suffered and that the Australian authorities have not covered themselves with glory either.

Note: This article refers to the current status of the dispute on 13.01.2022. If there are any new developments, we will inform you.