The Novak Djokovic saga has been one of the biggest stories of the week. It has everything: anti-vaxxers, border security, a stubborn athlete, an international tennis tour, angry parents, national politics, visa drama, memes and music. Novak Djokovic is currently sitting in a “quarantine hotel” in Australia, without access to any tennis courts or outdoor spaces or his team. His family is back in Serbia, fighting for his “release.” The Aussie authorities say that Novak is actually free to leave at any time, that they will arrange for him to be put on a flight out of Australia whenever he wants. It seems that he’s going to stay there until his Monday hearing, which is where he’ll likely be formally deported. Unless something is being worked out as we speak, and I kind of think that’s what’s happening behind-the-scenes.
To be 100% clear: Novak Djokovic should have gotten vaccinated. He should have been vaccinated months ago, and it’s completely asinine that he continues to refuse the Covid vaccine. His anti-vaccine stance will be seen as one of the biggest blemishes of his career and his life. He brought so much of this on himself. Now, all that being said: there are legitimately parts of this story which are bigger than Novak. He finds himself in a huge political and bureacratic sh-tstorm partially because Australian authorities (both the government and the tennis authorities) f–ked up.
This is the smoking gun that proves Tennis Australia wrongly — and knowingly — told the world’s best tennis players, including Novak Djokovic, how they could play in the first grand slam of the year even though they knew the proper rules for players who were unvaccinated against Covid was not as clear cut.
An information sheet, obtained by News Corp, was emailed by Tennis Australia to the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) early last month, then passed on to the world’s top players. The document shows that Tennis Australia informed players there was a two-step process to follow so they could play in the Australian Open without being vaccinated.
The advice included a clause where players needed to prove they had contracted the virus in the last six months — which is presumed to be the basis for Djokovic’s exemption, which was withdrawn when he arrived in Australia. But the problem is that the information forwarded to the ATP and players was incorrect, and Tennis Australia had already been told that.
Dated 7 December 2021, the email was sent after the federal government had already notified Tennis Australia in writing in November that a prior infection did not meet the requirements for quarantine-free travel. The timing is critical because it points the blame for the whole fiasco at Tennis Australia, and backs up claims by acting Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan that the state government was also not told by Tennis Australia that the Commonwealth had warned them prior Covid infection was not a genuine medical exemption.
Throughout the week, we’ve heard variations on this story, and I’m glad there’s finally firm reporting on it. Basically, Tennis Australia (the tennis federation) made up their own rules about which unvaccinated players would be allowed into the country and what kind of criteria they needed to meet to get a medical exemption. Tennis Australia’s made-up criteria was what Novak adhered to, and then the political sh-tstorm happened as soon as Novak announced his medical exemption and was already en route to Australia.
Now, again, this would have been solved so easily if Novak would just get the g–damn vaccine. But he’s now part of a sensitive political situation, battling contradictory Australian authorities. I do think that the longer he stays in Australia, the more likely it is that a deal gets worked out.
Also: Djoker’s stans call themselves “crocs” (for the Lacoste alligator) and the Crocs are losing their damn minds. I’ve seen Djokovic referred to as a “political prisoner” being punished by a “medical apartheid” system and guess what? That kind of rhetoric is BONKERS and offensive. Now there’s some kind of #IStandWithNovak movement and some of the biggest bros of tennis are taking sides.
Look I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mums health, but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad. Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) January 7, 2022
What Novak is going through right now is not right. There’s no justification for the treatment he’s receiving. He followed the rules, was allowed to enter Australia, and now he’s being detained against his own will. This is such a shame. #IStandWithNovak
— John Isner (@JohnIsner) January 7, 2022
Australian love letter to Novak Djokovic pic.twitter.com/odQJN9dMNN
— Tom Cardy (@Tomycardy) January 6, 2022
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Backgrid.