For many, the in-court tennis match between Novak Djokovic and the Commonwealth was a welcome dramatic distraction from the pandemic. Indeed, it made for far more nail-biting viewing than Australia’s Ashes triumph and gave us the courtroom drama we’ve all been craving since Rake.
However, while the right decision was ultimately made, the fact that the world’s most famous unvaccinated tennis player was able to get so close to entering the country remains baffling.
Like thousands of other Australians, our community has experienced brunt of the government’s strict border policies. In the last two years, the effect of these policies has been effectively locking out its own citizens with scarcely any options to return to their rightful home. Instead of the promise to be home by Christmas 2020, it reached a point where some Australians were threatened with jail time if they even tried. Even now, it is extremely difficult for many to reunite with their families overseas with these policies implemented in the name of protecting public health. To have allowed Djokovic to stay would have meant prioritising the chance of a famous tennis player to win a shiny trophy over the sacrifices made by thousands of Australians.
Of course, it can be argued that with Australia’s COVID case numbers now in the tens of thousands, one unvaccinated player would hardly make any difference to public health. I think that misses the broader point. An Australian Open that included Djokovic would have been a kick in the guts to all Australians who have given up so much over the last two years and patiently endured lockdowns to hit our vaccine targets. We did not do this for any one individual to play a few games of tennis. More importantly, we did not make these sacrifices only to allow a scenario that encouraged unvaccinated individuals, both at home and abroad, to maintain their dangerous stance.
One thing we can be certain of, as many Australians know from experience, is that ordinary individuals would never have gotten as close to entering Australia as Djokovic did. That still sits uncomfortably with me. I accept it is fair to ask, why does it matter now? He’s been deported, end of story. My discomfort lies in the fact that he should never have been granted a visa to begin with.
That the government had to ultimately rely on its ‘God power’ under the Migration Act leaves some questions to be answered. Indeed, Djokovic’s ability to get a visa in the first place echoed the ease with which so many A-list celebrities made it down to ‘Aussiewood’ throughout the pandemic whilst the rest of us remained stranded and in lockdown.
Optimistically, perhaps the decision to revoke his visa shows the government waking up to this double standard. More cynically, it represents a decision that was the most politically expedient at the time.
In any case, COVID has not gone away. Now more than ever, it’s vital that we as a community continue to hold elected officials to account and ensure that the story and sacrifices of this pandemic are not different between ordinary Aussies and the rich and famous.
The latest courtroom drama starring Djokovic may have beat whatever Netflix could offer, but let’s not renew it for another season.