As Novak Djokovic discovered over the last week – and not for the first time this pandemic – not even the greatest of tennis players are above the law.
A saga that began with monumental failures in inter-departmental communication between various Commonwealth and Victorian government departments and Tennis Australia snowballed this month into one of the most staggering geo-political firestorms in sporting history. The upshot of it all is that the world number one has now – pending any appeals – been unceremoniously deported from Australia under broad ministerial powers, but all parties have emerged from the messy affair with their reputations in tatters.
Initially, for his part, Djokovic appeared to have done everything presented to him as necessary to enter Australia. That was a process primarily driven by Tennis Australia, who commissioned the independent expert panels which determined that Djokovic had met the criteria for a vaccination exemption certificate which would allow him to compete in the Australian Open. Clearly, Djokovic was not aware – and Tennis Australia did not make him aware – of any other evidence required to enter Australia, as there is no doubt he would have made the attempt to procure that evidence well in advance.
That much is evident in the transcript of Djokovic’s interview with Australian Border Force officials, in which Djokovic appears genuinely confused and makes patient attempts to assist with inquiries and explain his circumstances. The officials’ failure to give Djokovic the opportunity to obtain legal advice before cancelling his visa at the border was inexplicable, and ultimately led to the cancellation being overturned on appeal. That Djokovic was allowed to get this far in the first instance was the latest in a long string of international embarrassments for the Morrison government.
It is at this point however that any momentary sympathy for Djokovic can be suspended – and terminated.
First, there was nothing preventing Djokovic from obtaining his own independent legal advice ahead of entering Australia. Unlike most other visitors to Australia, Djokovic has the resources available to him to seek greater certainty regarding his right to enter Australia. When you factor in the $4.4 million prize money on the line, and the veritable maze that has been Australia’s well-documented border policy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, common sense dictates that Djokovic should have either obtained his own legal advice, or requested Tennis Australia to obtain it on his behalf.
Secondly, and more concerningly, Djokovic’s conduct after his purported COVID-19 diagnosis in December has been reckless and selfish at best.
Who else feels ZERO sympathy for Novak Djokovic? 🖐️
— Nathan Mackenzie Brown 🌎 (@NathanMackBrown) January 12, 2022
Djokovic asserted in an ill-advised Instagram post that he attended an interview with a journalist two days after knowing he was positive for COVID-19, to avoid disappointing the journalist. He also claims to have not known he was COVID-positive when attending an event with a large number of children on 17 December 2021, despite swearing in an affidavit that he was “diagnosed” with COVID the previous day.
In the same social media post, Djokovic admits to making false declarations on his arrival form, in which he marked that he had not travelled to other countries since departing Belgrade, despite having visited and trained in Spain in the intervening period. Djokovic puts this down to a “human error” by a member of his team.
Add to the above the purported irregularities in how Djokovic’s PCR test was recorded in Serbia’s COVID-19 database, as well as Djokovic’s well-known stance on COVID-19 and vaccination generally – including the super-spreader tennis event he hosted in 2020 as the world entered a long series of lockdowns – and it becomes clear that Djokovic is infected not only by COVID, but by malice and illegality.
After all, given his blatant disregard for Serbia’s own COVID laws, there is little evidence Djokovic would respect Australia’s.
Throughout his career, Djokovic and his family have had not so much a chip on their shoulder as a boulder, complaining regularly about the greater popularity of his contemporaries and greatest rivals, Federer and Nadal, often supported by outlandish claims.
His father has alleged that 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer is “jealous” of Djokovic, that Djokovic only loses when he “allows” his opponents to beat him, and, in the latest saga, has compared his son’s plight to that of Jesus. Djokovic’s wife has also shared a host of COVID-related conspiracy theories, including claiming that 5G causes coronavirus.
Overbearing family members aside, Djokovic himself has claimed that he knows people who can purify “the most toxic food or most polluted water” using merely “positive emotions”, that he switched to a gluten-free diet after pressing a piece of white bread to his stomach and feeling “noticeably weaker”, and that he believes in telekinesis. Despite these claims, Djokovic has remained an incredibly popular tennis player by any measure.
But with his latest actions, Djokovic has all but ensured that his legacy will forever be tainted by the staggering contempt he has shown for both the law and for public health. In so doing, Djokovic has ironically proven true of himself what his father has long asserted about Federer: a great tennis player, but not a great human.