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Sports

Tale of three stars

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Theres something wrong in the way the script is playing out in the sports careers of tennis star Novak Djokovic, NBA guard Kyrie Irving and world No. 5 pole vaulter EJ Obiena. Their storylines arent nearly the same. Djokovic is acting like hes bigger than his sport and even bigger than life. Irving is just as self-centered but isnt forcing the NBA to let him play unvaxxed. Obiena is in a different situation. While Djokovic and Irving feel entitled as celebrity athletes, Obiena is a victim of a personal vendetta aimed at besmirching his image to propagate the leadership of an autocratic National Sports Association.

Djokovic, 34, has won 20 Grand Slam singles championships and could go down in history as the greatest tennis player ever. The Serbian is known for supporting a lot of social causes, including early childhood education and relief for victims of earthquakes, floods, COVID-19 and other calamities. But hes head-strong about certain issues which go against civil norms, in particular vaccination.

Djokovic has been infected at least twice by the virus. In June last year, he was suspected of passing the virus to NBA player Nikola Jokic during a Belgrade event that had little concern for social distancing. Djokovic was found to be infected at the time. Then last month, Djokovic tested positive once again but didnt seem to care as he traveled to Spain and even met up with kids in a get-together despite his condition. He insisted on traveling to Australia to defend his Grand Slam title and was granted a medical exemption from mandatory vaccination by the Australian tennis federation and the state government of Victoria. But upon landing in Melbourne, Djokovic was detained and his visa was canceled because he failed to comply with entry requirements for an unvaccinated traveler. Djokoviclawyers got into the picture and a federal court later ordered the Serbian free to roam the streets because of a technicality in not following immigration procedures. The Australian Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alex Hawke intervened and canceled Djokovics visa on “health and good order grounds ... in the public interest.” Djokovic has stubbornly resisted the order and his lawyers are appealing for a reversal so he can play at the Australian Open. In the course of investigating Djokovics case, it was found out that he had lied about certain immigration requirements to slither through the rules.

While the world grapples with the pandemic, Djokovic is unmindful of whether or not hes a carrier. Its all just about himself and his tennis. As the worlds No. 1 player, he appears to think hes above any law and Australia has to be honored that hell play in Melbourne. No matter his philanthropic history, Djokovic is coming out of this controversy as a man so full of himself. He doesnt deserve the adulation of a superstar in his game.

Irving, 29, isnt a vaxx fan like Djokovic. He says he should be respected for his beliefs especially as the NBA doesnt mandate vaccination. But in New York state, Irving isnt allowed to play contact sports unless hes vaxxed. His team Brooklyn may be willing to pay a fine for every game that Irving plays unvaxxed but thats not the point. Other states, however, allow unvaxxed players to see action. In the PBA, its no vax, no play. Initial resistance to vaccination by the Semerad brothers, Rafi Reavis and Justin Melton eventually disappeared as they understood the rule wasnt just for them but for the entire league. The NBA should impose the same rule particularly as the virus has decimated a lot of rosters lately. Unlike Djokovic, Irving isnt pushing his weight around. If the NBA wont allow him to play, thats fine with him. At first, the Nets decided to sit out Irving. Then, when lineups started to shrink, they compromised, letting Irving play on the road. At this stage, compromises arent the way out. Vaccination, social distancing and strict enforcement of safety/health protocols are.

Obiena, 26, is vaxxed and his only goal is to represent his country to the best of his ability in whatever competition he participates in. The problem is for some reason, hes not well-liked by his NSA, maybe because hes got a mind of his own and he doesnt play footsies with demi-gods. Hes been accused of embezzlement, falsifying documents and misusing public funds. Obiena has refuted the charges but his NSA refuses to back down. The NSA tried to pass on Obienas Olympic Solidarity scholarship to another athlete as a way of reprimand and later found out, the grant was athlete-specific so instead of allowing the privilege to a Filipino, it was withdrawn. In a perfect world, Djokovic and Irving would be vaxxed and Obiena would receive full support from his NSA.

EJ OBIENA

NOVAK DJOKOVIC

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