Djokovic’s Blunder Down Under is a Moment of Reckoning


Courtesy of The Guardian

Novak Djokovic’s fame, skill and prestige do not exempt him from Covid protocols, proven by the Australian Open.

Carter Smith, Staff Writer

The Australian Open tennis tournament is upon us, and Novak Djokovic, the current first-ranked player in the world, is causing a stir over COVID-19 protocols. According to the Open organizers, all players participating in the tournament must be fully vaccinated to be eligible for play. While nearly all the competing players have complied with the requirement, there is one particularly prominent outlier: Djokovic. 

Over the course of the pandemic, Dojokovic hasn’t exactly been dedicated to COVID-19 protocols. According to the New York Post, he held a party at a nightclub in his home country of Serbia back in June, which resulted in multiple of his tennis-star comrades contracting the virus. 

Djokovic has openly espoused that he is an anti-vaxxer because he does not believe vaccination should be compulsory. He doesn’t feel like he needs it. While this has not been an issue with previous pandemic-era tournaments, the Australian Open’s vaccine requirement poses a challenge to the Djoker.

He applied for a medical exemption, claiming that he had built up immunity after he contracted COVID-19 in December, but after arriving in Australia, the government ruled that the evidence for his exemption was unsubstantiated, and his visa was canceled. He soon appealed, but an alleged failure to isolate following a positive test result resulted in another visa cancellation. The government detained Djokovic at a hotel while they battled with his lawyers and the Serbian government, but the cancellation was made final following a Sunday court hearing, and he left Australia.

I think that this is the dumbest move in a long line of dumb pandemic-related moves from the Serbian player, and these events will test his reputation. Djokovic has won 20 grand slam titles in total, and nine of them have been from the Australian Open. Thus, he will be missing a good shot at another title and could be continually barred from his best tournament if he remains unvaccinated. If he were to win this Open, he would surpass Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to be the most decorated Grand Slam player of all time.

This also damages Djokovic’s public image, which was already shaky. Even before the pandemic, he was seen as somewhat weird because of his strange beliefs and rituals, but many overlooked those quirks because of his skill. However, with the previously mentioned disregard for pandemic protocol and now refusal to abide by vaccination requirements, the tennis community’s opinion has begun to turn against him. This latest debacle has the internet calling him “Novax” Djokovic, although I doubt the harassment will end there.

Ranked the best men’s tennis player in the world, Djokovic has garnered many brand endorsements, which total $30 million from brands like Peugeot, Lacoste and Hublot, and his situation in Australia could be scaring sponsors. None have dropped him yet, but I imagine some of these brands will consider the option if the situation continues to go south.

This very public incident will be a moment of reckoning for all famous athletes around the world who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 of their own accord. As exemplified by Aaron Rodgers earlier this year when it was revealed that he lied about his vaccination status, public opinion turns against unvaccinated athletes quickly. Their choice not to get their shots leaves them and those around them more exposed to COVID-19, and as new variants pop up, I can’t call their choice smart. 

Additionally, the pandemic has reached a stage where high profile athletes should have no trouble getting a vaccine, and the most available vaccines have been proven safe and effective. The biggest leagues and tournaments are beginning to implement vaccination requirements, and those like Djokovic and Rodgers will likely soon be forced to get the vaccine to be eligible to play or face relegation.

However, these athletes are the faces of their sports and/or teams, so there is a possibility that organizations could let their half-baked medical exemptions slide. This selective enforcement would give other anti-vaxxers room to demand more exemptions.

I am in favor of compulsory vaccination. Vaccines are proven to limit both the severity and ease of catching COVID-19. The more needles we get in arms, the safer our communities are, and those who think their fame puts them above their civic duty are a threat to that goal.