Open to Criticism: Anti-vaxxer Novak Djokovic in visa battle in Australia as government calls him out
For the past few years, Novak Djokovic, the world's number one men's tennis player, has engaged in a victory ritual, where he faces each corner of the stadium, and apparently from his heart, funnels his love to the crowd. And, while that gesture seemed somewhat mawkish, since no one was being hurt by it, I figured, well....what the hell.
For, it appears as if that virtual love Djokovic was channeling to his fans were merely shovels full of manure.
Djokovic, you see, is an anti-vaxxer and since the Australian government told him he was persona non grata and canceled his visa, he's become the tennis version of Green Bay QB, Aaron Rodgers.
Djokovic arrived in the Land Down Under, set to defend his Australian Open title - a tournament the Serbian star has already captured a record nine times. However, his unvaccinated status and subsequent banishment have become a high-profile Aussie court case.
Djokovic was initially granted a visa by meeting one of the stipulations specified in Australia's vaccination exemption protocols. Specifically, that he'd tested positive for COVID on Dec. 16, 2021 (within the 30-day time parameter to qualify for an exemption), and that he's been asymptomatic (no fever nor respiratory symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 72 hours).
However, on the following day that Djokovic allegedly tested positive, he was photographed unmasked while being in close contact with others.
So, what was it? Was Djokovic guilty of reckless behavior while infected, or, was he not COVID positive, merely using that “positive” as a way to game the system, defend his Australian Open title and avoid getting vaccinated?
That is what is currently being sorted out in court.
To be clear, there's plenty of blame to go around and all of it doesn't get assigned to Djokovic, either. Aussie officials were guilty of some sloppy handling, as well.
After initially granting Djokovic a visa, officials committed a Down Under blunder, doing a 180, canceling his visa and prohibiting him from entering the country - after he'd arrived.
That ruling, however, was overturned by a judge. But, that will not likely be the end of it and it's possible that immigration minister, Alex Hawke, could use his personal power to invoke a nuclear measure, one that could force Djokovic out of both the tournament and the country, as well.
But, I wouldn't hold my breath.
Because, should Hawke elect to travel that path, the ban would be for three years. Meaning Djokovic would be unable to play in Australia until he's 38-years-old.
Setting-up a classic lose-lose scenario.
Australia, it should be noted, is a nation tough on COVID, with more than 90% of its population vaccinated, and it is certainly not their desire to be perceived as being soft, by giving special treatment to a celebrity.
Pro athletes carry tremendous influence with fans. Those at the very top of their sport wield far greater impact. And, when one of those "real life" influencers - not the one's who proclaim themselves as such on social media - take a wrongheaded stand during a once-in-a-lifetime global health crisis, the result can be calamitous.
To be clear, the only reason COVID and its variants continue to demonize the world, is because of those who steadfastly exercise their god-given right to remain stupid, i.e, not get vaccinated. For those who invoke personal freedom as their reason for refusing to “get a jab,” I would ask, "where does your personal freedom stop and mine start?"
Djokovic is the exception - not the rule - as more than 90% of pro tennis players on tour are fully vaccinated. But, he's a big fish and what he says resonates with those who share his obstinance.
When high profile athletes like Djokovic and Rodgers champion their anti-vaxxer stance, coupled with the lies and misinformation being circulated, we remain mired in inertia and our battle against COVID becomes an even more uphill one.
For some context, the World Health Organization, from 1958 to 1977, conducted a global vaccination campaign that eradicated smallpox, making it the only human disease to be eradicated. Much the same can be said for polio, as vaccinations have eliminated that crippling disease from most of the world. Moreover, vaccinations have reduced the number of polio cases reported each year from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to 33 in 2018.
I believe it's fair to say that - given the type of vaccination resistance so pervasive these days - had Dr. Jonas Salk introduced his highly-successful Salk vaccine in 1953, it would have largely been shunned and greeted with disdain.
As for Djokovic, his on-court prowess is undeniable. He is one of the - if not THE - greatest men's tennis player of all-time. His judgment, however, is quite another story. If it were his intention to back a good cause, this wasn't it, as advocating something that will influence millions to follow his lead, while being detrimental to their health, is not something with which Djokovic should wish to have his name and image associated.
That's why in the future, Djokovic's “sharing the love from his heart” victory ritual, could take on an entirely different meaning.
Let us not forget that in tennis “love” means "nothing."