Novak Djokovic’s Covid-19 katzenjammer: Having one’s Cake and Still Eating it
There is little doubt that coronavirus has dominated our lives and nearly every government policy since the pandemic stormed the world, making it the most controversial issue presently. More than anything, the pandemic has exposed the apparent existing inequalities – economic, racial, gender – in our society and created a high degree of consciousness of those inequalities and divisions amongst individuals. Controversial. Consciousness. Division. Polarising. Sure! Nothing illustrates those elements better than the recent Novak Djokovic’s visa saga in Australia. Novak Djokovic, the world number one men’s tennis player, was held in a detention hotel in Melbourne, Australia, and his entry visa, drastically revoked on his arrival in preparation for the Australian Tennis Open. Well, Mr Djokovic was not arrested with a bag of drugs or an illegal riffle. No! He was detained for failing to fulfil the country’s COVID-19 entry requirement. He was neither vaccinated nor could he provide the required evidence to support a medical exemption to Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rules. All animals are equal but… Australia’s pandemic border rules boycott foreigners from entering the nation if they are not either twofold immunised or have a therapeutic exclusion from having the vaccine. That rule applies to everyone irrespective of gender, race, economic or social status. The controversy started when Novak Djokovic, world one men’s tennis player with an estimated net worth of over $200 million, flew to Melbourne in preparation for the Australian Open tennis tournament without proof of COVID-19 vaccination. He is anti-vaccination. More confusion and backlash followed after it was revealed that the tournament’s organisers granted the Serbian-born player an exception to play in the game despite his opposition to vaccination and the fact that such an exemption may have violated the country’s immigration law. According to the tournament director, 26 people applied for a medical exemption, and three were honoured. In addition to Djokovic, doubles player Renata Voracova and a tennis official also received approval. Remarkably enough, the tennis star and the official entered Australia earlier but saw their visas withdrawn after all the fuss around Djokovic. Both have since left the country. The seeming privilege granted to Djokovic caused a wave of colossal anger and revolt in Australia, where over 90% of those over 16 are fully vaccinated. Furthermore, having endured some of the world’s strictest COVID-19 restrictions, including the inability to travel between states, talk less internationally, many Australians were furious at the visa exemption granted to Novak Djokovic and other high-profile tennis players. Scapegoat? Then came the divisiveness and polarising nature of the coronavirus discourse. Being world number one men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic has a huge fan base who would do everything to watch the talented, prolific player on the tennis court. To this group, Novak Djokovic’s detention is a huge international embarrassment and personal victimisation in the hands of the Australian authority. It did not help that some added racial and political dimensions to the whole commotion by claiming that Serbian-born Novak Djokovic is being singled out because of his country of origin. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic added fire to the row by calling Djokovic’s detention a “harassment” of the tennis star and “the whole of Serbia,” asking for global support for Djokovic’s case. The player’s father, Srdjan, went further to label his son’s case “not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world.” While the Australian Border Force (ABF) has made it clear that “Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia,” it equally insisted that the 34-year-old tennis player had “failed to provide appropriate evidence” for entry. Defending his government’s position over the row, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted that Djokovic was not a scapegoat. However, the Minister emphasised that no one is above the country’s rules and added that Djokovic’s stance on vaccination had equally created attention and controversies. Deputy prime minister of Australia, Barnaby Joyce, did not mimic words about the rhubarb during an interview with the BBC. “Then he’s taking the sovereign capacity of another nation for a joke.” “You can’t just wander around the world thinking that because you’re really rich you’re really above the laws of other nations”. Ms Barnaby Joyce added. However, it did not help that the Prime Minister was said to have initially supported the Victoria state’s decision about the exemption, only to change his position after the embroilment. Mr Morrison’s alleged change of stand has given some Djokovic’s supporters ground to accuse him of politicising the issue. The court decision Novak Djokovic’s lawyers filed a legal challenge to his detention and visa revoke; the court decided on Monday that the border officials did not follow the correct procedures on Djokovic’s last week. While Novak Djokovic’s supporters welcomed the verdict with tumultuous applause, others see it as the wrong precedence. Notably, the court ruling focused on Djokovic’s detention on arrival in Australia, not on whether he disobeyed the country’s covid-19 rules. Emerging details show that the 34-year-old tennis star seems not only to have falsified his immigration entry information, but he may have disobeyed both Australia’s and his country’s covid-19 rules as well. Furthermore, having had contact with people while he allegedly tested positive to corona equally weakens his case and offers the government of Australia possible ground to cancel his visa and deport him. Novak Djokovic may be banned from entering Australia for three years if deported. Mask-less despite a positive test? According to the court papers, Djokovic tested positive on 16 December, following a PCR test. However, he appeared mask-less at a ceremony surrounded by many people, where he was honoured with Serbian postage stamps in recognition for his achievements, according to the images he posted on his Twitter on 17 December. That is not all. On 18 December, the 34-year old tennis star equally posed mask-less during a photoshoot for the French newspaper Équipe. Thorn in the flesh of our harmonious co-existence No topic has generated more so controversies and become divisive today than coronavirus. While Novak Djokovic celebrates his legal victory, it has become imperative to accept that the corona pandemic will continue to become a thorn in the flesh of our harmonious co-existence. The alleged secrecy surrounding the origin of coronavirus has played to the doubting minds and effectively gave them the reasons for doubts, amongst others, the genuineness and effectiveness of the existing vaccines against coronavirus. Like any other medical challenge, no one can claim 100 per cent knowledge of an ailment or its cure. However, the results of thousands of research works from medical experts worldwide have shown that coronavirus is a reality, and it can be deadly. Furthermore, research has proved that the existing vaccines can slow down the infection rates and COVID-19-related deaths. Based on those scientific findings, various governments have made rules that will help reduce coronavirus spread and bring back normalcy in society. Expectedly, individuals should co-operate with government and health officials by taking all necessary precautions to defeat the infections and spread of the virus and minimise possible deaths. Democracy and freedom of choice Of course, we live in a democratic world where individuals have the right to make choices and decisions on issues concerning them. That includes whether they want to get vaccinated or not. Every choice we make in life comes with consequences and repercussions. There are consequences if a government folds its hands without tackling the spread of coronavirus and corona-related deaths. We saw the fallouts in the USA during the Trump era. That government inactivity can be deadly. However, in as much as governments want to take all necessary measures to halt the spread of corona and minimise infections and deaths, which are running in millions, individuals are free to decide whether they want to get vaccinated or not. But that decision has consequences as well. It must not come at the expense of freedom or health of those who have taken the trouble to obey the covid-19 rules, including vaccination. One cannot decide not to get vaccinated or wear a mask, yet they want to go and sit in a restaurant, stadium, cinema, where the chances of infecting others are high. That is like having their cake and still eating it. You cannot eat your cake and still have it, can you? The idea of having one’s cake and still eating it is where some might disagree with Novak Djokovic. Agreed he is anti-vaccination; that decision has consequences; it must not be to the detriment of others or other countries’ rules. For sure, Mr Djokovic did not go to Australia to help the government extinguish the wildfire or build a railway line for Australians. No. He is there for business. Yes, to make money. He is the favourite to win $4,400,000 out of the AUD 75 million in prize money budgeted for the 2022 Australian Open. And, of course, Novak Djokovic wants to prolong his title bid and surpass Nadal and Roger Federer’s 20 grand slams. He is chasing his career dream to become the most decorated tennis star in the world. A good reason to be law-abiding, isn’t it? Being opposed to vaccination is one thing; breaking a country’s law in the process of trying to achieve your dream, polish your career and enrich yourself comfortably is something else. Has Novak Djokovic ever thought about this? End of legal uproar? For now, Djokovic may have avoided the deportation dagger hovering over his head, but it is too soon to conclude that the brouhaha surrounding his entry and anti-vaccine stand has ended. Hardly does Djokovic have the last laugh. Although the court has nullified last week’s cancelling of Djokovic’s visa, regardless of how unreasonable that court verdict may be, the immigration minister is constitutionally empowered to overrule that decision and cancel it again on different grounds in line with that decision section 133C(3) of Australia’s Migration Act. The country’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is seriously weighing that option. With a federal election scheduled in four months, Prime Minister Morrison may well use Djokovic case as a God-sent Manna to demonstrate his no-nonsense approach to rules and regulations, with the eye set on the electorate’s votes. Whatever the government’s decision may be, it is hard not to see how coronavirus has become so controversial and polarising a topic. Regardless, as Raphael Nadal, Novak Djokovic’s co tennis star, rightly said, deciding not to be vaccinated has “consequences” – irrespective of one’s race, gender, religion or economic status. One cannot have their cake and still eat it. For sure, no one understands those realities better than Novak Djokovic.