By: Daria Draskovic
Most people have heard of the recent situation surrounding world-renowned Serbian tennis player, Novak Djokovic. Sitting at a rank of number 1 in the world, he was anticipated to be a massive contender at the upcoming Australian Open. However, this year, things were different.
Australia has been globally recognized as one of the strictest countries when it comes to COVID-19. What sets them apart from other countries in the world, which have implemented regulations such as masking mandates, is that getting in and out of Australia is relatively difficult. A negative COVID test and full vaccination are needed to both enter and leave the country.
Why is this important? Djokovic, who was planning to play in the tournament, was not vaccinated.
However, Djokovic was able to provide a medical exemption to Australian officials. Tennis Australia confirmed that Djokovic’s exemption was granted with reviews from two separate panels of medical experts. Public outcry ensued, as Australian citizens argued that Djokovic should not get special privileges solely due to his status. When he arrived in Melbourne, the tennis player was detained, denied entry, and had his visa revoked. After this, Djokovic made a legal attempt to overturn this.
A court judge reinstated his visa, claiming that Djokovic did not have time to speak to his lawyers about the situation before the decision to deny him entry. At that time, he was set to play in the tournament and was even put in a bracket to play against a fellow Serbian tennis player.
However, Australia’s Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke used his ministerial discretion to revoke Djokovic’s visa again. Hawke stated that this decision was in the public’s interest and that Djokovic being in Australia would boost anti-vaccine sentiment.
Djokovic submitted an appeal, but it was ultimately overturned. On the 16 of January, Novak was deported and left Melbourne.
Did he deserve this? Was he, as the Australian officials said, a possible factor in the boosting of anti-vaccine sentiment? In April 2020, Djokovic made his views clear by issuing a statement, “Personally I am opposed to the vaccination against COVID-19 to be able to travel. But if it becomes compulsory, I will have to decide whether to do it or not.” Another factor in why Djokovic was initially let into the country was because of a positive COVID test from December, which he used to show that he had already contracted the virus. However, this opened up a new web of inquiry. Days after testing positive, Djokovic had attended an event in Belgrade with youth tennis players, and even had an interview with a French newspaper. More shockingly, in a statement released by him, he disclosed that he failed to indicate he had been in multiple countries over the last two weeks on his Australian travel declaration.
The public is largely divided on this issue. Some, like the Prime Minister of Serbia, believe that Djokovic was treated unfairly. Because his medical exemption was approved by two separate panels and was considered valid by Tennis Australia, they think he should have been let into the country.
However, there is a vocal opposition, who states that since everyone who enters Australia must be vaccinated, Djokovic should not be an exception solely due to his fame.
This situation has brought forward statements from celebrities, government officials, and even fellow tennis players, who all either support or oppose the outcome. Many believe that his presence in Australia would have bolstered anti-vaccine movements, but others say that Australia’s vaccination rate is already so high, and COVID case numbers are low. This situation is a classic example of potential harm outweighing potential good, and in this case, Djokovic was found to be the former. COVID vaccinations and mandates are a relevant topic at the moment, and this ruling will certainly influence actions and sentiments around the world. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to read about the facts, follow health guidelines, and form our own opinions with an open mind.