No’vax’ Djokovic v Australia: Who will triumph?

January 24, 2022

3 min read

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What's going on here?

After a long rally of forehands and backhands, Australia hits a passing winner to revoke Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time.

What does this mean?

In light of Djokovic’s agent ‘accidentally’ making a false declaration on his travel form and originally being granted a medical exemption after testing positive for COVID-19 in December, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has revoked Djokovic’s visa. This was done on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”. This decision means that Djokovic cannot defend his title at the Australian Open and attempt to become the most successful male tennis player in history with 21 Grand Slams. Instead, he will face deportation and potentially a three year ban on entering Australia. As it stands, Djokovic can launch a legal challenge to remain in Australia and the coming days will reveal how this plays out.

The Australian Government’s decision comes after a week of media frenzy, public rallies and a court judgement holding originally in favour of Djokovic. Nevertheless, most Australians are likely to support this decision, as the country has suffered some of the longest and strictest Covid-19 lockdowns in the world. In particular, Melbourne, the host of the Australian Open, spent 262 days in lockdown in 2021. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the Australian Government has taken a harsh stance on his visa.

What's the big picture effect?

Djokovic’s case has become highly politicised and has the potential to cause serious ramifications on Australian and Serbian diplomatic relations. Djokovic’s legal team have responded to Minister Hawke’s decision to cancel the visa as “patently irrational”. Nicholas Wood, Djokovic’s lawyer, has insinuated that this decision was neither based on health nor legal grounds, but instead was a political decision grounded in Djokovic encouraging ‘anti-vax sentiment’. This would work against Australia’s political message of getting vaccinated, and could have derailed its efforts to open the country back up. Moreover, by revoking Djokovic’s visa for the second time, it may ignite a diplomatic row with Serbia. Serbian politicians have suggested that Australia is merely chasing ratings and is encouraging political abuse. This situation is precarious and has the potential to escalate if it isn’t resolved quickly. 

Djokovic has become the media’s latest scapegoat for the pressing ‘vaccinated versus unvaccinated’ debate. In particular, the sage has raised important questions about whether athletes are allowed to ‘play by different rules’ than everyone else. Hypothetically, they should not be able to and should abide by the same rules as everyone else. This approach has been adopted by 98% of Australian Open athletes, allowing for the Open to go ahead and for the public to support it. Realistically however, there are still the 2%, like Djokovic, who damage the goodwill and positive actions of those other players. As Patrick McEnroe, a former American professional tennis player, frankly puts it, “You’re allowed to have your own beliefs, but once those beliefs start to impact other people, that is where things begin to get a little dodgy”.

Moreover, this is significant in the context of Australia, as many ordinary vaccinated Australians have been prohibited from entering the country for nearly two years and reuniting with their loved ones. Therefore, how can the Government justify allowing Djokovic, an unvaccinated athlete who acts as though he is above the rules, to enter the country? Arguably, in light of the surge of Omicron cases, the Australian public’s outcry was expected and is justified.

Although the Australian Government have clinched the first set, it is unclear whether Djokovic will fight back and claim the next. Some will think that the response has been an overreaction, whilst some will believe the rules are the rules. Either way, it has become clear that the world of sport has departed from merely being about an athlete and their game, and to focusing more widely on their platform and the messages that they convey to the public.

Report written by Sofia Antipatis

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