The Djokovic dilemma

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

There is nothing noble about being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self. – Winston Churchill

Novak Djokovic was a lot funnier before he became the best tennis player in the world. But nobody’s laughing. Now, his behavior is not only sad, it’s tragic. Whether or not he is allowed to stay in Melbourne to defend his Australian Open title, he has already tarnished his reputation by not staying within the lines, as it were. And he had to do it in a country which has one of the most stringent health policies of all.

Djokovic is known for not believing in being vaccinated against COVID-19. Though he has never said anything negative against vaccines in general or this one in particular, he has repeatedly expressed hesitation in being dosed. When he entered Australia to play, he had been given a medical exemption. But his visa was cancelled, and he spent time in an immigration detention facility pending a hearing. His father practically canonized him a saint. This all created an outcry in his native Serbia, more so as Renata Voracova of the Czech Republic, who was also scheduled to play in the Aussie Open, departed after her visa was cancelled. A judge later declared that he could stay and play.

The problem is that, as the issue wears on, it appears that Djokovic had contracted the virus, and could have knowingly met people who didn’t know, and lied about it. That’s a major no-no anywhere. But bear in mind that, historically, Australia has been very strict with possible contaminants for decades. In past Olympics, they have held equestrian events far from urban centers, and until the turn of the new millennium, were spraying passengers deplaning from incoming commercial flights. You couldn’t even bring down any fruit served on your inbound flight to the Land Down Under. In the last century, however, their sports controversies involved swimming, football, the Olympics, horse racing, boxing and doping in other sports, not tennis. Public outcry after a zero-medal output in the 1976 Olympic Games actually led to the creation of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

What is agitating many Australians is that they have had to live through lockdowns, flight bans, two-week quarantines and so on simply to fly back home in the past two years. Now it appears that Djokovic even fibbed about his comings and goings before flying in, and that is definitely grating. It’s one thing to have a very string set of beliefs, it’s another to be unscrupulous and subvert the rules of others to get your way. It is unfair to those who comply, no matter what the justification.

Djokovic’s fate is pending, even though opponents for the opening round have been drawn. At best (for him), he will be allowed to play, and try to get past the disruptions in his preparations for the Open. At worst, he will be sent home, surrender his crown without a fight, and try again next year. Unfortunately, this may become an unfortunate asterisk on an otherwise sterling career. And that’s no joke.

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