Given the kind of 2021 Novak Djokovic has had, you would expect that every time he made headlines, it would be for reasons that are more positive than negative. Yet anyone who’s followed the Serbian’s career is aware of his tendency to make news for all the wrong reasons.
And so it has proved again. The 2021 Australian Open champion is unsure if he will defend his crown at the start of next year. The reason? The country’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“Things beings as they are, I still don’t know if I will go to Melbourne,” Djokovic told Serbian publication Blic. “I will not reveal my status whether I have been vaccinated or not, it is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry.
“People go too far these days in taking the liberty to ask questions and judge a person. Whatever you say, ‘yes, no, maybe, I am thinking about it’, they will take advantage.”
It’s worth noting that, at this point, it is unclear if Djokovic has been vaccinated or not. He has merely refused to divulge his vaccination status.
Not that it matters; Australia’s federal immigration minister Alex Hawke made it clear that everyone entering Australia will need to be double jabbed, and no exceptions were likely.
“I don’t have a message for (Djokovic), I have a message to everybody who wishes to visit Australia – you will need to be double vaccinated,” he told ABC radio.
If this seems like a harsh stance to some, Hawke made clear his priority was to keep everyone safe.
“(The virus) doesn’t care what your tennis ranking is, or how many grand slams you’ve won. It’s completely irrelevant. You need to be vaccinated to keep yourself safe and to keep others safe.”
Amazingly, this isn’t even the first time that Djokovic has found himself in a controversial position regarding COVID-19 and vaccinations. No, this is but a case of deja vu all over again.
First, Djokovic got into trouble over the Adria Tour in 2020. For those who need a refresher, this was an exhibition tournament held in Belgrade and Zadar. But the tournament could not even get underway.
The reason? In the midst of the pandemic, the tournament did not impose social distancing guidelines and also allowed full crowds to attend the matches.
To make things worse, however, Grigor Dimitrov would end up contracting coronavirus. As did Borna Coric, Victor Troicki, Djokovic himself and the Serb’s coach Goran Ivanisevic.
Then, to make things even worse, footage emerged of the players showed the players partying and playing games together – with no social distancing being practiced, again. Understandably, the tournament was called off before it could even start.
Djokovic would apologise for the debacle, but would later claim the reaction was like a “witch-hunt”. Amazingly, this wasn’t even the worst of his public soundbites.
He further went on to state that he was “pro-choice” regarding vaccines; he also said that he would not want the ATP Tour to make vaccination mandatory for players.
All in all, a borderline anti-vaccine stance and questionable decisions during the pandemic have not made Novak Djokovic a popular man among certain sections of society.
Another line of thinking suggests the issue is not the vaccine in this case; his real bone of contention is with the quarantine period.
At present, anyone entering the state of Victoria must undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine. That might just change due to the fact the borders are now opening in the country.
In that case, his stance is at least understandable. Quarantine rules and bio-bubbles have quite clearly taxed all athletes across sports; not wanting to undergo a hard quarantine again is a fair stance.
But the truth is, it is not possible to question the measures being taken. Australia are keen to not fall into the throes of another wave of cases. Their lockdowns were among the strictest the world over; their borders have, until recently, remained firmly shut.
It might seem harsh, but to raise debate over their measures at this point seems privileged. The virus as it is has impacted human life massively, and continues to do so even now.
Yes, it is true that the situation has improved the world over. Vaccination rates are rising, and people in general are more prepared to deal with the situation. But the war against COVID-19 is far from over.
At this point, athletes too must do their bit to end this battle. That includes encouraging people to get vaccinated while also still taking whatever precautions possible.
Novak Djokovic has, to this point, done neither. He is instead prepared to skip a Grand Slam, be coy on his vaccination status while also pushing a “pro-choice” narrative that is used by anti-vaxxers the world over.
In short, skipping the Australian Open over this – when he is at the precipice of making history himself – is a strange hill to die on.