Some say that politics is involved in Djokovic’s detention in Australia
SYDNEY (AP) – Novak Djokovic’s timing is perfect on the tennis court. But when the # 1 player boarded a plane to Australia to play the first Grand Slam of the year with a COVID-19 vaccine exemption, his timing could hardly have been worse.
The game apparently changed while he was in the air – and on landing he was denied entry. Some say that in a country experiencing a surge in the virus, politics is at stake and how best to roll it back is being discussed.
Australian officials initially said Djokovic, a vocal vaccine skeptic who refused to say whether he would get the COVID-19 vaccination, would get an exemption from strict vaccine rules and be able to attend the Australian Open.
But when he landed, his visa was canceled and he is now in a detention center while battling the decision.
It’s not clear what caused the reversal, but news of the exception sparked an outcry that the star was receiving special treatment from Australia, which has seen some of the strictest pandemic rules in the world.
Djokovic’s refusal to speak about his vaccination status or explain why his health exception was granted didn’t fit well with Open Host Melbourne, where 92% of the eligible population are fully vaccinated and cases are increasing.
Melbourne reported 21,728 new COVID-19 cases as well as six deaths and an increase in hospital admissions on Friday. At 9 a.m., 18 state PCR test centers were already busy and closed.
In 2020 and 2021, Melbourne residents spent 256 days under strict movement and assembly restrictions.
With this in mind, many in Australia have cheered the decision to block Djokovic’s arrival.
Columnist Peter FitzSimons wondered how it could be otherwise.
“The first Grand Slam of the year is finally taking place in one of the most sealed-off cities in the world, where people have made extraordinary sacrifices to keep the population as healthy as possible,” he wrote in the Sydney Morning Herold this week. “And he should just roll in, be the exception to the rule just because he could hit a ball well?”
The story goes on
This sentiment was shared by many on social media, with a poster complaining that he could not fly from the UK to Australia to attend family funerals during the lockdowns and so the tennis star should not be allowed in.
But some say the athlete is made a scapegoat.
“The guy played by the rules, he got his visa, he arrives, he’s a nine-time champion and whether people like it or not, he’s entitled to fair play,” said the former Australian Open tournament director and Davis Cup player Paul McNamee told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “There is no doubt that there is some gap between the state and the federal government.”
“I hate to think there is politics involved, but it feels like it,” he added.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who initially did not oppose the decision by Tennis Australia and the government of the state of Victoria to grant Djokovic a special permit, quickly welcomed the move by the Federal Border Forces to deny him entry.
“Nobody stands above these rules,” said Morrison. “Our strict border policies were critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates from COVID in the world. We remain vigilant. “
In recent months, the Morrison administration has moved towards a live with the virus approach that includes more open borders and easier touching of domestic restrictions. He implemented the changes when the highly contagious Omicron variant caught on.
Morrison, who wants to be re-elected in March, faces heavy criticism for the new strategy. But he points to Australia’s low death rate and strong economy – both of which are among the best in the world – as evidence that he can steer the country through the crisis.
“We have no choice but to ride the wave (the Omicron Falls),” he said. “What is the alternative? What we have to do is keep going. “
Morrison has also been criticized for not running antigen testing fast enough to relieve pressure from PCR test sites, where wait times have exceeded five hours in some states. He has refused to make rapid tests generally available and free of charge.
Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, has been hit hardest by the current Omicron surge, which occurred after Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet eased mask requirements and other rules. Other states have been slower to relax virus-related restrictions, creating tension between the Australian states and the federal government.
The cancellation of the visa also put Djokovic on the wrong track in his homeland of Serbia, where he has long been a national hero. The Serbian President condemned the move and Djokovic’s family expressed their anger at what they portrayed as an affront to the Serbian people.
“You, famous Prime Minister (Morrison) of the distant, naturally beautiful country, are acting on your own principles that have nothing to do with us and our principles,” Djokovic’s father Srdan told reporters. “We are human and you, sir, are not.”
Djokovic has to await the trial at a Melbourne hotel that also houses refugees and asylum seekers transferred from Australia’s offshore detention camps. In October, a COVID-19 outbreak at the hotel infected around half of the 46 asylum seekers detained there at the time.
Djokovic’s brother Djordje said the tennis star was “taken to a dirty room with no belongings”.
“He was treated like a criminal despite being a healthy and decent man and an athlete who does not endanger anyone’s life and has not committed federal or legal violations,” added Djordje.
The process that led to the original decision to give Djokovic a waiver is now being scrutinized. Tennis Australia insists that the exemption was granted by an independent panel of medical experts without knowing whose applications they were considering.
The cases of two other Australian Open players, who also received a health vaccine waiver, are currently under scrutiny.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported on Friday that Renata Voracova, a 38-year-old doubles player from the Czech Republic, had her visa canceled and she was taken to the same hotel where Djokovic lives. Tennis Australia and the Australian Home Office did not immediately respond to requests for confirmation.
It remained unclear who the third player was.
Steve Mcmorran, The Associated Press