Djokovic’s COVID Controversy

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Everyone loves a villain. In the world of tennis, for some time, it is Novak Djokovic who has been gloriously vilified and booed like the pantomime baddy.

Now, it is his legal status that has come under fire, the tennis world number 1 being deported from Australia, after losing a visa battle that pressed upon the fact that he was unvaccinated. It is a controversial decision, one that has shrouded the tennis media coverage for the last few days, but what does it all mean?

Some have described Djokovic’s deportation as an ‘Orwellian’ measure. Whilst Djokovic had yet to disclose his vaccination status, subtle hints from some previous commentary had suggested that he was “opposed to vaccination”. In the past, he had expressed concerns about being forced to take a vaccine, eliciting a response from professions who suggested he was spreading misconceptions. Yet, such arguments centre around the contestation of his personal choice. The extent to which human rights and free will are impinged upon under vaccine laws is an underlying issue. For some, Djokovic’s deportation has renewed the debate about vaccine laws and whether they are inherently compromising the individual. Imposing vaccine laws might seem like something out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, cultivating a slippery slope in terms of the diminishing of human rights and personal freedoms.

But Djokovic’s “professional” status has also elicited many double standards. Many have been angered over the fact that some are permitted easy freedom of movement between countries and laws, whilst others have been unable to visit their beloved family members on the basis that they’re unvaccinated. Others have added that the protection and integrity of a country’s health measures and vaccine laws are paramount to ensure that the pandemic remains manageable. However, the decision to permit Djokovic’s entry into Australia, which was then revoked, has highlighted the blurring boundaries of the law. His situation has been riddled with contradictions.

The response to Djokovic’s confirmed deportation has been thoroughly mixed. John McEnroe explicitly called the situation ‘total BS,’ claiming that, after granting Djokovic exemption on medical grounds, it was unfair to revoke his visa decision. Andy Murray has also criticised the decision, suggesting that tennis tournaments are less worthwhile when top players are absent – even more so when Djokovic was travelling to Australia this year to defend his title. Other players, including Emma Raducanu and Rafael Nadal, elicited their dismay that the media excitement in the run-up for the Australian open had been overshadowed by Djokovic’s deportation, politicising the sport rather than engaging with the tournament’s sporting interests.

After his deportation, Djokovic’s family released a statement condemning the decision and asserting their support for him and his team. However, in the wake of Australia’s decision lies suggestions that Djokovic might be banned from the French Open in May after politicians voted in new rules to ban unvaccinated participants from all sporting arenas. Such decisions highlight the crossovers between the sporting world and countries’ borders and laws. Whilst each country’s laws are passed with a view to protect their population’s interests and health, Djokovic’s situation has raised some interesting questions; the nature of personal choice; the double standards afforded to professional athletes; the confusion of governing laws; and the interests of the sporting world.

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